KPBS AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 1, 2000
SONG: “Getting to Know You”
When in doubt, go for the known quantity. That seems to be the philosophy behind the Moonlight Amphitheatre production of “The King and I.” The lush and lovely sets and costumes were rented, the choreographers, Don and Bonnie Ward, did the same service for the Welk Resort’s “King” last year, and Clynell Jackson III has played the Siamese sovereign in seven prior productions. So that makes for a pretty solid foundation. In the role of Anna Leonowens, director Kathy Brombacher cast Brenda Burke, a self-assured, professional, Equity performer who acts the part better than she sings it, but makes a credible match for Jackson’s imperious King. All the secondary characters are also well cast and musically sound.
Besides being a classic with a glorious score, it’s a wonderful story, based in Bangkok, all about this adventurous, strong-willed 19th century Welsh widow who, hired as governess to his multitudinous children, butts heads and beliefs with the autocratic, supposedly “barbaric” Asian ruler. Eventually, (maybe inevitably, at least in the musical version), they fall in love — sort of. Well, at least they get to dance….
Ultimately, Anna influences King Mongkut to democratize the country, and (what’s only hinted at in the show), after the King’s death, she actually stays around as advisor to his successor, Crown Prince Chulalongkorn.
“The King and I” was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical based on a true story, derived from Anna’s memoirs. They also added a tragic secondary plot, concerning the furtive romance between Tuptim, one of Mongkut’s many wives, and her secret lover, Lun Tha.
The Moonlight production gets off to a sluggish start, but picks up steam in the second act, highlighted by the stunning ballet of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” the Thai version of the American anti-slavery classic, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Noticeably close to the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, the piece is beautifully danced, especially by Joanna Tsang as Eliza and as Simon of Legree, Luis Avila, who does double duty as the Crown Prince. Both have performed these roles before, in the show’s national tour. The use of veterans enhances this presentation at every level, but I must say, I miss the end-of-season risk-taking production that used to be a stellar signature of the Moonlight Amphitheatre. I always looked forward to something a bit newer and more challenging but right now, there’s a lovely and elaborate musical classic under the Vista stars.
MUSIC: under and out: “Something Wonderful”
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.