The Pantages Theatre hosted Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” April 5, starring Stefanie Powers and Ronobir Lahiri.
“The King and I” is a timeless piece that uses subtle humor and dramatic portrayals of culture clashes to bring to life a story of western influences over eastern lifestyle.
The play, originally written by Margaret Landon, tells the story of an English schoolteacher named Anna Leonowens (Powers) who is hired by the King of Siam (Lahiri) to teach western science to his many children.
Immediately upon arrival, Anna is shocked to learn of the inequalities that exist between men and women within eastern culture.
The King is a proud, yet arrogant man who sees Anna as an inferior because she is a woman. He hires her to teach his children, however, in his eyes, she is now his servant.
Anna’s humble nature and willingness to embrace new ways while continuing to make a stand for her own dignity, eventually earns her favor in the King’s eyes.
From the very moment the two meet in his royal palace, the King begins to admire Anna for her knowledge of the world. He gradually starts to appreciate her and learns from her more as the play progresses.
Anna, while feeling utterly compelled to protest the subjugation of women and lack of appreciation for human life by the King, can’t help but adore his savvy attitude and slyly condescending mannerisms.
Lahiri portrayed Siam’s King in such a way that it was hard not to fall in love with the character. He always held his head up high, but in private, it seemed as though he was a child always seeking to learn new things.
One of the funniest scenes in the story was one in which Anna and the King are having a private meeting in his room. The King was informed that people in Singapore are saying he’s a barbarian. Enraged, he tells Anna that he is not, and goes on to explain how he will prove his western critics otherwise.
He was so proud that he masked his inability to devise a strategy for winning favorable western opinion by telling Anna to “guess” what he was going to do. She then played along and guessed that the King would revamp his image by impressing Sir Edward Ramsay (Hal Davis) when he came to visit Siam on the way back to England.
There is a side story in “The King and I”, during Anna’s constant comedic battles with the King.
Tuptim (Michelle Coughlin) is a young girl given to the King as a gift. She, however, is in love with a man from her homeland named Lun Tha (Martin Sola). The two obviously cannot be together because the King would punish them both brutally if he were to find out.
The two sing a duet in the first act titled “We Kiss in a Shadow.” In this song, Tuptim and Lun Tha are both deeply saddened by their inability to be together and kiss in the daylight for fear of being reprimanded by the King.
This side story serves as the basis for Anna’s outrage at the King’s treatment of women. His polygamist ways and air of superiority over the subjects he rules also disgust her.
In the end, though, Anna is able to see the King for the small bits of compassion that lie within him. In turn, the King is able to see her as more of an equal person who merits his respect.
“The King and I” is an absolutely magnificent production, incorporating a fantastic music ensemble with the graceful dance steps of both eastern and western cultures. Together, with absolutely breathtaking scenery, this play is a must see for everybody.
The Pantages Theatre seems like the only location worthy of such a large-scale production. Its acoustics are fantastic and the surroundings are absolutely gorgeous, from the decadently designed walls to the massive centerpiece reaching down from the ceiling.
Once again, I can’t emphasize enough how spectacular this play is. The cast is astonishing, and the presentation altogether is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” will be playing at the Pantages Theatre through April 17.