Christopher Swan as The King of Siam looks on as Alison Mahoney as Anna Leonowens dances with Adam Ryan Tackett as Sir Edward Ramsey in "The King and I" at Ocean State Theatre. Photo by Mark Turek.
By Frank O'Donnell, WPRO Arts and Entertainment Contributor
It’s 1860 or so. A widowed English school teacher travels to Siam to take over the education of the King’s children. The King of Siam, something of a progressive thinker, wants to introduce his country to the good things he sees in Western culture. “First, printing press. Now, teacher."
That’s how “The King & I” starts – a meeting of East and West, with the sort of fireworks one might expect. A strong-willed modern woman going toe-to-bare-toe with an old-world monarch who desperately wants to rise above his barbarian image.
“The King & I” has become a musical theater classic, and the new production at the Ocean State Theatre Company provides a bit of a fresh look at the show.
The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is intact and instantly recognizable. The show comes from an era when show tunes often became the pop standards of the day. You’ll know songs like “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance” as soon as they begin. But the music is only part of the fun.
The best part is the way the actors perform them. Hyemi Kim (playing Lady Thiang) thrills with her operatic presentations, especially in “Something Wonderful.” Shawna Haeji Shin (Tuptim) and Sam Simahk (Lun Tha) might just bring you to tears with “We Kiss in a Shadow” or “I Have Dreamed.”
The sets by Bert Scott are simple and ornate at the same time. The costumes by David Costa-Cabral are colorfully vibrant, representing the best of both parts of the worlds on stage.
The thing that struck me most about OSTC’s production was the amount of humor in it. Christopher Swan manages to find some excellent comic moments in his role as The King – something I don’t recall seeing in other presentations, where The King is stoic throughout. Not this one, and Swan plays the moments perfectly, especially in a scene where he discusses sending elephants to America to help Abraham Lincoln’s war effort.
There’s really a lot to like in this version of “The King & I.” Go see it for yourself.
Ocean State Theatre Company presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King & I” through May 19. Check www.oceanstatetheatre.org for all the details.
Frank has been performing and writing comedy since the early 1980s, earning his spot as one of Rhode Island's best known and most well respected comedians.