A Visually Impressive—But Aging—‘King and I’
By Melody Udell in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 2, 2014 5:00PM
Marriott Theatre's 'The King and I.'
There’s no denying that the Marriott Theatre’s production of The King and I is a beautiful, polished rendition of a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The songs, especially the ever-hummable “Getting to Know You” and show-stopping “Something Wonderful,” along with a dynamic set, detailed costumes, and two vocally charged leads in Heidi Kettenring and Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, should make for a lushly memorable night. But the show’s creaky storyline can, at times, be hard to choke down. Despite such a glossy production, it’s clear that this visually impressive musical is fueled by a heavy dose of nostalgia.
Kettenring is well-suited to play Anna, the obstinate yet youthful English schoolteacher who’s come to the palace of Siam, now Thailand, to teach the king’s children. Not all 67 of them, according to the king—just the ones whose mothers are still in his favor.
It doesn’t take long to learn that the king’s life of luxury has turned him into an egregious, difficult ruler, and the two are constantly butting heads. In refusing to provide Anna and her son with a home outside the palace walls, as part of her promised pay, she sees the king as self-serving and dishonorable. The king, likewise, treats Anna as the outspoken, self-respecting woman that she is—which, in 1800s Siam, is not a compliment.
Anna and the king’s power struggle seems to have no end in sight, no true conflict resolution. In fact, the show is lacking a true moment of drama until midway through the second act, when we learn that Tiptim (Megan Masako Haley), the king’s concubine from Burma, is having a secret love affair with a peasant (Devin Llaw). The two sing a sweetly compelling duet, “I Have Dreamed,” and there’s finally the feeling that something—young love—is truly at stake. Before then, when Anna announces a hurried plan to improve the king’s reputation in the eyes of foreign dignitaries, it doesn’t feel like the conflict-generating plot device that it really should.
Director Nick Bowling’s fresh staging, at least, keeps the show apace, with actors utilizing every inch of the Marriott’s always intriguing theater-in-the-round-style stage. Nancy Missimi’s costumes and Thomas M. Ryan’s set design are both richly detailed without being overly ornamental. And when the music starts, its easy to get lost in and Kettenring’s vocals, even if we can’t quite understand why she might be harboring romantic feelings toward the king. The show may be hinged their love, which “neither can see,” but it seems, more accurately, to be a love that the audience can no longer believe in.
The show runs through Sunday, Jan. 4 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, 847-634-0200 or online.