Chicago Theater Review: THE KING AND I (Marriott)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 30, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

WE SHALL DANCE!

It’s no puzzlement why this sumptuous reclamation of Broadway greatness, Marriott Theatre’s The King and I, is such a grand night for singing, an enchanted evening, and, like its song, “Something Wonderful.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s semi-historical domestic drama—the unlikely alliance between a Siamese monarch in the Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as The King and Heidi Kettenring as Anna in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Mark Campbell.1860s and a British governess/tutor—shows how history is about people at pivotal points. Change comes from unexpected places in improbable ways. When it does, sometimes the most honest response is just a question in a polka—“Shall We Dance?”

Like the dairyman Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, the unnamed King (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, at once imperious and vulnerable) copes with a future that’s come today. He must reckon with the widow Anna Leonowens (utterly charming Heidi Kettenring), a one-woman culture clash, as well as with colonial threats to his Indochinese kingdom. More personally, the polygamous ruler’s autocratic control over many wives and an equally fractious heir apparent (Matthew Uzarraga) now seems a useless throwback to a tyranny the times won’t tolerate.

Heidi Kettenring as Anna in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Amy Boyle.

Faced with British designs on Siam (though, of course, the French would be the true nemesis), the King must persuade emissary Sir Edward Ramsey (Rod Thomas) that he’s no “barbarian” by throwing a banquet and a ballet based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin (a delightful fusion of temple dancing and melodramatic excess). It buys time and, well, the rest is history.

Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as The King in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Amy Boyle.

Nick Bowling’s multi-textured, richly wrought revival surrounds the Bangkok palace with set designer Thomas Ryan’s intricate stone latticework and crowns it with signature arches from Buddhist temples. Within this exotic hothouse occurs a domestic transformation as seminal as foreign events: Accompanied by her son Louis (Michael Semanic), this stubborn, independent-minded Anna meets her equal in intractable defiance. So much so that Anna’s lovely “Getting to Know You,” sung by Anna and the King’s adorable offspring, fits the entire story.

Heidi Kettenring with cast in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Mark Campbell.

The self-described “scientific” King must learn without seeming to, especially after persecuting the captive courtesan Tuptim (Megan Masako Haley). Her love for the low-born Lun Tha (Devin Ilaw)—elucidated in “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed”—expose the King’s capacity for cruelty. It’s all part of his struggle with a non-rhetorial question: Must “modernize” mean “Westernize”?

Devin Ilaw and Megan Masako Haley in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Amy Boyle.

An unwitting feminist, Anna enforces her right to live in a home, not a harem. She will literally show the royal family Siam’s true place in the world. Happily, Mrs. Leonowens learns as much as she teaches in such inexhaustible delights as “I Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and the patter protest “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” (also not a rhetorical question). Finally, as the ministerial Kralahome, Joseph Anthony Foronda stands for traditions soon to expire.

The cast of THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Amy Boyle.

Making a terrific debut at Marriott Theatre, Bowling wisely lets these strongly drawn characters create themselves from universal conflicts. The beguiling ensemble, especially the sweet children, turns history into romance every chance they get. The songs get all the love that every note rewards. (One reservation: Ramsey should not be the only British visitor present to certify the King’s “civilized” credits.) Completing the grand illusions are Nancy Missimi’s storybook costumes, processional and ritualistic choreography by Tommy Rapley, and Ryan T. Nelson’s impeccable musical direction. The title is not enough: The King and I needs you.

Matthew Uzarraga and Kristen Choi in THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Mark Campbell.

photos by Amy Boyle, Mark Campbell and The Marriott Theatre

Yu Suzuki and Cast THE KING AND I at The Marriott Theatre. Photo by Mark Campbell.

King and I_Megan Masako Haley and Devin Ilaw (MC)The King and I
Marriott Theatre
10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire
scheduled to end on January 4, 2015
for tickets, call 847.634.0200
or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 1 comment }

Dalya Horowitz October 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I was sitting in front of Mr. Bommer last night and I totally agree with him. It was a beautiful and delightful evening – entertainment in the truest sense. Definitely go see it.

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