Thursday, April 23, 2015

Broadway Review: The King and I

Disappointing, but Still Satisfying Revival of a Favorite
By Lauren Yarger

When it comes to Broadway musicals, it doesn't get much better than The King and I for me. There's a longer story about the part this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has played in my life (you can read it here), but suffice it to say I was really looking forward to Lincoln Center's revival of the musical starring the golden-voiced Kelli O'Hara.

It was disappointing, but still satisfying. The score still brings goosebumps and hearing O'Hara sing "Hello Young Lovers." I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Shall We Dance" with a 29-piece orchestra behind her was an experience I am glad I didn't miss. Other highlights are a well staged reproduction of the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas" and a terrific performance by Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang. 

The production, directed by Bartlett Sher (who did an amazing job with Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific), seems as well intentioned as its opening number which features a massive boat sailing up onto the stage and out into the audience as Anna Leonowens (O'Hara) and her young son, Louie (a delightful Jake Lucas) expectantly arrive in mid-19th century Siam. The excitement of the opening number quickly dissipates as the rest of the sets (designed by Michael Yeargen) become rather minimal. And things really get complicated when the King (Ken Watanabe) arrives on the scene.

The Japanese actor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his gripping performance in "The Last Samurai," doesn't speak English very well, and despite reports that he sought to improve his skills when people were complaining during rehearsals that he couldn't be understood, I'm afraid it was too little too late.

I know the script by heart (again, read here why I am obsessed with this musical) and I couldn't understand what he was saying most of the time. The main conversation almost everyone was having at intermission: "Can you understand anything the king is saying?" An after-show chat by a group of people who had never seen it before: "The music was beautiful!" "Oh, that dress -- all the costumes were beautiful!" "I couldn't understand anything the king said, though."

Clearly, Sher should have replaced Watanabe in rehearsals (though a critic colleague of mine who attended the same performance said he had absolutely no problem understanding Watanabe, so go figure.) The effect of leaving him in, besides missing a good part of the story, if you aren't familiar with it, also is that there is little chemistry between him and Anna. I felt as though O'Hara were sleepwalking through the part. I guess it's hard to engage in sizzling banter if you can't react to what is being said.....

The character interpretations for Anna and the King seemed off to me as well, communications aside. The King seemed weak -- his angry son, Prince Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz), seems better able to convey a scorn-to-admiration transformation in his relationship with the teacher sharing Western thought with the court of Siam. And Anna seems so laid back, that we don't feel her contempt for the king's treatment of women, her anger in the song "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You," or even any justification for the king's telling her that she has "been very difficult woman." (OK, I still teared up when Anna read that final letter from the King.)

So you get the picture. It wasn't what I have dreamed..... It's still The King  and I, though, so there is a lot to like.

That score! Still wonderful, and movement director Christopher Gatelli recreates a lot of the original choreography by Jerome Robbins. Sets pieces in Small House of Uncle Thomas even look like the originals.

Designer Catherine Zuber comes through with costumes we expect. There is pinstripe in the dress for the classroom scene of "Getting to Know You" the "Shall We Dance" dress dazzles and moves with perfection as the King (also clad in expected red and gold) and Anna polka around the stage.

Miles, who wowed us as Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love, bring nuance to the King's head wife, Lady Thiang. She serves as a link between Anna, the King, his concubine and slave, Tuptim (Ashley Park), and the king's chief advisor, the Kralahome (a convincingly frightening Paul Nakauchi). 

She also advises her son, Chulalongkorn, who is heir to the throne, and is key in another plotline involving Tuptim's plans to escape with her secret love, Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora), the man who was ordered to bring her to Siam as a present from the King of Burma. 

Lady Thiang's character seems stronger than Anna, despite the King's reliance on the English woman to teach his children and wives and to assist him in matters of state, like when an English delegation led by Edward Ramsey (Edward Baker-Duly) arrives in Siam, which they consider taking as a protectorate because they hear the king is a barbarian.

The King and I plays at Lincon Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre,  150 West 65th St., NYC. Tickets are $87-$142; 212- 239-6200;

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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