Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” is one of the duo’s boldest musicals and while its tackling of women’s rights issues and cultural sensitivity seems almost quaint by today’s standards, the daring energy of the show still rings true.
The touring production of “The King and I,” playing now through Dec. 10, at the Fox Theatre, is one of the more lavish stage presentations you’re likely to ever see of this venerable musical.
With a huge cast and stunning costuming and stagecraft, the visual splendor of the show fits like a glove in the decorative Fox Theatre; plus, it helps distract from the fact the plot of the show gets a little draggy in the middle.
For those of you who haven’t attended a high school musical in the past 50 years, “The King and I” is the story of Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly), a British widow school teacher who arrives in Siam in the mid-1800s with her son Louis (Rhyees Stump) in tow.
Anna’s charge is to teach the dozens of children of the headstrong King of Siam (Jose Llana, who actually comes close to rivaling Yul Brynner in regards to stage presence and confidence in the role).
Of course, Anna is just as headstrong as the King, and the two constantly butt heads on everything from international diplomacy to the treatment of the King’s many wives. That stubbornness eventually leads to respect, which eventually leads to a close friendship and a better cross-cultural understanding.
As progressive as the show was in its day, there are still some cringe-worthy Asian stereotypes that still bleed through, but the production does a good job of glossing over them and staying focused on the heart of the show, which is the universality of friendship, love, decency, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (sorry, couldn’t resist).
I don’t love the songs in “The King and I.” Sure, “Getting to Know You” is a classic, and “A Puzzlement” is the best-executed number in the show, but beyond that, there’s not much to get excited about. Even the climactic “Shall We Dance?” is iconic less for the song and more for the joy of watching Anna and the King joyfully dance around the stage.
But, still, there are reasons “The King and I” has stood the test of time and this production does a fine job of pushing all of those reasons to the forefront. This is a show lovers of musical theater would not want to miss.
“The King and I” is playing now through Dec. 10, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.