The King and I is a testament to the lavish heritage from the golden age of musicals. Featuring a company of over 50 world‐class performers, a full-scale orchestra, classic songs and extravagant costumes, this critically acclaimed Tony Award winning production of The King and I is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until 7 March 2020.
Set in Bangkok in the 1860s, Anna, a widowed British schoolteacher, has been hired to educate the children of the King of Siam. Anna is sweet-natured, but spirited and though their relationship can be unconventional and tempestuous, it is not long before she wins the heart and mind of her employer. But, as a moderniser in an imperialistic world, he is struggling with his own principles and ideology. From the first scene, my breath was taken away and I was hooked. I was in awe of the huge boat on stage and how real it all felt. I floated along the beautiful songs, felt each emotion with the characters and was left feeling completely fulfilled. I am not ashamed to say I even shed a tear. This show is phenomenal and oozes quality out of every pore.
Darren Lee reprises his critically acclaimed USA national tour performance in the role of The King. Darren is an outstanding King. His strength and vulnerability are flawlessly executed by Darren. Darren only needs to raise an eyebrow and he conveys what we need to know. Every mannerism. Every movement. Every line delivered is an absolute joy and he rightly commands the stage with his presence.
Annalene Beechey is outstanding in the role of Anna. She is the modern-day Julie Andrews and her voice is just exquisite. Her demeanour makes it look effortless. She really is perfect in the role. Annalene says ‘I absolutely love playing Anna. Anna has a wonderful journey throughout this show, she’s tough, feisty, funny, warm and believes so passionately in the power of knowledge. But I was also a little worried about dancing the polka in that huge skirt! You stop and it keeps moving. And it’s very heavy, almost 20 kilos in weight!’ Actually, it’s so big she can’t wear it backstage. She has to climb into it in the wings of the theatre.
This story is just as relevant today as it was all those years ago. Perhaps even more so. It’s about a single working mother doing the best she can for her son. She fights for what she believes in and cares very deeply for the world. One of my personal favourite moments from the story has always been Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I did wonder how this would be portrayed and how a subject on slavery would be received in today’s society. However, it was not only tastefully done – it was faultless. Every moment and every dance move were exactly how it should be. Every expectation was exceeded in abundance.
The outstanding cast are matched with a breath-taking set design by Michael Yeargan, who has outdone himself. To match the sets, the costumes are sublime. Costume designer Catherine Zuber should win an award for such beautifully designed outfits. I found myself coveting not just Anna’s dress but indeed the Siamese male attire too. With classic numbers including I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers, Something Wonderful and Shall We Dance?, choreography by Christopher Gattelli, and with a tale that takes you on a roller-coaster journey of laughs and tears - If you only see one show this year – this is the one. Shall we dance? Yes let’s!
The King and I is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 7 March 2020.