To be considered a lover or scholar of musical theatre, there is an essential repertoire of work that a person must know. Alongside shows like Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, and Guys & Dolls, The King and I stands proudly as one of these classic standards. When it opened on Broadway in 1951, it broke thematic ground, with a plot based on actual historical events and character’s relationships focused on respect and understanding, rather than romantic love. Following the story of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens’ experience teaching the children and wives of Siamese King Mongkut in 1863 Bangkok, The King and I is as much a tale of political diplomacy and an examination of the post-colonial cultural struggle as it is a heartfelt musical with beautiful songs.
In closing out their 75th season, Olney Theatre Center’s production of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic presents a fine balance between these light-hearted tunes and the more dramatic themes of imperialism and honor. Without getting overly sentimental or insufficiently serious, director Mark Waldrop has created the perfect blend of elements and reminded me why The King and I has been so beloved for more than 60 years. He has assembled a large cast (36 actors, although the children are double-cast, so there’s never more than 28 in a show) and an impressive 12-person design team, and yet not allowed the 2 hour 45 minute show fall prey to its own mammoth size, or even feel like it was nearly three hours. The show was clean, clear, and well-paced, with a very talented cast. Continue reading