A glorious revival of one of the greats of the American Songbook has taken residence at the Palladium, in a perceptive production directed by Bartlett Sher.
The leading principals, Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara, have enviable chemistry and an ear for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious score and lyrics.
With the original book draft plundered for new and apposite political references, and culturally appropriate casting, this show obtains a sense of new relevance, especially in the Act Two showpiece The Small House of Uncle Thomas (“written by a woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe”).
This fits the narrative of the Burmese girl, Tuptim (Na-Young Jeon, in a mature and heartbreaking performance) torn from her home and lover in Burma and sold in sexual and emotional slavery to the King.
This King, though, struggles with the traditions which revere him close to a deity, allow his subordinates to grovel in supplication, and give him many wives and children; and a thirst for modernity and knowledge.
Into this mix comes Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher, who comes to teach the children (and it transpires, some of the wives too) about Western facts and ways.
How much influence the real Anna had on the Siamese King is up to question, but in this fictionalisation a grudging respect and affection develops within the pair, the curious King and the feisty Anna.
Head wife Lady Thiang understands that change is necessary, but also understands her husband – Naoko Mori’s rendition of Something Wonderful is as touching as O’Hara’s Hello Young Lovers as an anthem of knowing devotion.
This is a sumptous production with a talented supporting cast of youngsters and an excellent orchestra. Don’t miss.
The King and I continues at the London Palladium until the 29th September 2018.