The King & I
Reviewed – 4th July 2018
“built on its flawless singing and orchestrations, and the set can afford to be barely an afterthought”
Perhaps there’s no bad time for a revival of The King and I. Amid themes of relations between cultures, what it means to be a woman and what it means to lead, this story and the questions that it asks may never cease to be relevant. That said, if no time is the wrong time, this feels like the perfect moment. As the world continues to turn outside the walls of the London Palladium, the King’s frustrated cry of “sometimes I wish I could build a wall around all of Siam” and his referral to Anna as a “difficult woman” hold onto a grim relevance that Rodgers and Hammerstein couldn’t have predicted.
For all its new pertinence, it’s clear that the London revival is making a great effort to maintain the classic nostalgia, with very few changes from the Broadway version, even down to having the same two brilliant actors in the lead roles. Kelli O’Hara’s portrayal of Anna makes it blatantly obvious how she has become so iconic in this role. She has a light and unassuming presence on stage, but underneath this there lies great power and tenacity. She perfectly captures the constant balancing act of existing as a Victorian widow, living outside the safety of the British empire. However, she doesn’t hide the exhaustion that this would bring: the moments when Anna’s carefully curated image cracks are some of the piece’s most powerful.
Likewise, Ken Watanabe’s King absolutely fills the stage by himself. While a few of his words were lost at times, this only served to remind me that the character was functioning in his second language and was constantly struggling to be understood, on both linguistic and personal levels.
When reviving this musical, an awareness of its history is key. When both the original Broadway and film casts were all too white, approaching this version with sensitivity is absolutely paramount and was clearly at the forefront of the creative team’s minds. For example, by staging a number with the King’s wives navigating the horrors of Victorian dresses before turning to look straight at the audience and inform us, directly and with obvious anger, that “Western people funny”, the balance of power is changed. We as a Western audience are accused of hypocrisy and self aggrandising, and this criticism cannot be ignored.
It would be impossible to discuss this musical without at least touching on the ensemble. Flitting easily between roles with an ever present energy, their talent is unmistakable. At times the sets felt as if they jumped between the opulence of the castle and something a little more unfinished, but this piece really doesn’t rely on the set. It’s built on its flawless singing and orchestrations, and the set can afford to be barely an afterthought.
While this revival had relatively little new to offer, the overwhelming sense is that they know what works, and they’re happy to stick to it.
Reviewed by Grace Patrick
Photography by Matthew Murphy
The King & I
London Palladium until 29th September
Previously reviewed at this venue
As rehearsals begin, Cameron Mackintosh is delighted to announce final casting for the UK and Ireland tour of his acclaimed production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical MISS SAIGON. Ryan O’Gorman will play ‘John’, and Marsha Songcome will play ‘Gigi’ until 1 August when Na-Young Jeon will take over the role. They join the previously announced Red Concepcion as ‘The Engineer’, Sooha Kim as ‘Kim’, Ashley Gilmour as ‘Chris’, Zoë Doano as ‘Ellen’ and Gerald Santos as ‘Thuy’. At certain performances ‘The Engineer’ will be played by Christian Rey Marbella, and ‘Kim’ will be played by Joreen Bautista.
Red Concepcion’s many theatre credits in his native Philippines include ‘Adam/Felicia’ in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” for which he won the ALIW Award and Gawah Buhay Award, ‘Tommy’ in “The Normal Heart” and ‘Alan Strang’ in “Equus” as well as the musicals “West Side Story” and “Hairspray”.
Sooha Kim made her professional debut in this recent production of “Miss Saigon” at the Prince Edward Theatre where she covered the role of ‘Kim’ before going on to play the role in the Japanese production. Her credits whilst training in Korea include ‘Maureen’ in “Rent” and ‘Carmen’ in “Fame”.
Ashley Gilmour also appeared in “Miss Saigon” at the Prince Edward Theatre. His most recent credits include playing ‘Link Larkin’ in the national tour of “Hairspray”.
Zoë Doano’s many West End theatre credits include ‘Cosette’ in “Les Misérables”, ‘Johanna’ in “Sweeney Todd” and most recently ‘Grazia’ in “Death Takes A Holiday”. She has also appeared in the national tours of “The Sound of Music” and “High Society”.
Ryan O’Gorman is currently playing the role of ‘Tom Collins’ in the 20th Anniversary UK Tour of “Rent”. His other theatre credits include “Les Misérables”, at the Queen’s Theatre, “The Phantom of the Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre, “Billy Elliot” at the Victoria Palace Theatre and the UK tour of “Oliver!”.
Gerald Santos was the youngest ever winner of the biggest singing contest in the Philippines, Pinoy Pop Superstar. He has released five studio albums and has won numerous awards including winning twice Best Male Concert performer at the prestigious ALIW Awards.
Marsha Songcome returns to “Miss Saigon” having previously played the role of ‘Gigi’ at the Prince Edward Theatre. She is currently appearing in Disney’s “Aladdin” in the West End. Her other theatre credits include: ‘Sophie’ in “Mamma Mia!” and ‘Rizzo’ in “Grease” in Sweden.
Na-Young Jeon has previously played the role of ‘Fantine’ in “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre, a role she also played in South Korea. Her other theatre credits include: ‘Esmerelda’ in “Notre Dame de Paris” in South Korea; ‘Bianca’ in “Kiss Me Kate” in Amsterdam and “Miss Saigon” and “High School Musical” in the Netherlands.
They are joined by David Allwood, Randy Chien, Vinny Coyle, Kristine Mae Diaz, Michael James Eborall, Aynrand Ferrer, Seng Henk Goh, Emily Beth Harrington, Jack Heasman, Tom Hier, Barnaby Hughes, Kamm Kunaree, David Kar-Hing Lee, Amanda Lingdren, Ela Lisondra, Winchester Lopez, Christian Rey Marbella, Jay Marsh, Tom Mussell, Thao Nguyen, Saori Oda, YoungJoo Park, Kiel Payton, Katherine Picar, Alistair So, Carl Jae-Suk Sohlberg, Eloisa Amalia Tan, Gavin Tsang, Amadeus Williams, and Gerald Zarcilla.
The tour opens at Curve Leicester where it will play from Saturday 1 July – Saturday 22 July.
For full details of UK Tour dates please visit: