Theater Review: THE KING AND I (Drury Lane, Chicagoland)

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by Stephen Best on April 8, 2022

in Theater-Chicago


There is something to be said for a classic musical lovingly restaged for a new generation of audiences. The Drury Lane Theatre should be very proud with their latest, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. There is enough here to satisfy any traditionalist and to charm even the sternest of curmudgeons. Based on Margaret Landon’s book Anna and the King of Siam this musical is almost three hours of stunning voices, beautiful costumes and winning performances, led by Broadway’s original Aladdin, Adam Jacobs. Trading in the bright lights of Times Square for a more subdued Oakbrook Terrace Chicago suburb, Jacobs is a delight as Siam’s King. Sublime vocals, solid comic timing and a half-dozen changes of ballooning genie harem pants that would make Prince Ali jealous.

Adam Jacobs, Betsy Morgan

Betsy Morgan’s Anna Leonowens, the strong-willed widow, silky voiced and impetuous governess and educator, might have originally been summoned to teach the King of Siam’s brood of children and team of wives of highest honor in the ways of the West, but it’s her lessons for the King that are the heart of the show. Obvious and immediate cultural clashes and societal differences quickly rear there ugly heads. She considers herself an employee while the King sees her as a servant. Guess who wins out in that battle? While Anna doesn’t agree with the King as polygamist, she knows he is no barbarian and assists him in matters of state and global governance — “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” as the script states. The wily Welsh has met her match in The King of Siam, a complex leader at odds with his country’s past and worried about foraging its future. In his quest to modernize his country, he knows he will have to impress the West without being swallowed up in Empirical expansion.

Paulina Yeung

The supporting cast is filled with standouts. Christine Bunuan, a gifted natural comedian, cast against type as the stoic and commanding number one wife, Lady Thiang. Young Matthew Uzarraga is building quite an impressive resume, immediately arresting here as Prince Chulalongkorn. Paulina Yeung, as the lovely yet headstrong Tuptim, is the real find. Her remarkable voice instantly captivating from the first moment she sings. Her character may be just a “present” from the King of Burma, but she is the remarkable gift that keeps on giving every single time she steps on stage. Her Act II play within a play “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, an exploration of slavery, is a defiant and subversive political act, carried out right under the King’s nose. I am looking forward to following Yeung’s very promising career far beyond this production. The scene stealing, cherub faced Royal children were played by Avelyn Choi, Dante Garcia, Enzo Garcia, Elle Laroco, Vin Laroco, Rika Nishikawa and Alexandrya Salazar. They are all absolute equal levels of adorable and fun.

Betsy Morgan (center) and the children's ensemble

Directed with precision by Alan Paul, Mr. Rodgers’ music and Mr. Hammerstein’s lyrics are in the skillful hands of musical director Tim Laciano. Both men can rest easy, the musical numbers are simply astounding. All your favorites are here — “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know You”, “Something Wonderful” and “Shall We Dance” — are dusted off to delightful results. Choreographer Darren Lee makes original choreographer Jerome Robbins’ work all his own to really beautiful effect. The Act II ballet pavilion “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” is rendered with such loveliness, incorporating traditional cultures with modern touches. I couldn’t be the only person that noticed the Alvin Ailey “Revelations” promenade  towards the end of that number. Simply stunning.

Adam Jacobs, Betsy Morgan

Rounding out the creative team, Wilson Chin and Riw Rakkulchon were co-scenic designers, bringing their real world experience to the table (Rakkulchon worked as a guide at the Royal Palace in Thailand). Izumi Inaba’s costume design, inspired by Catherine Zuber’s original Tony Award-winning design, is lovely, especially the astounding voluminous pink silk gown, with hoops and petticoats, in “Shall We Dance”. Emily Young’s hair and wig team worked overtime to accommodate such a large cast. Eric Southern’s majestic lighting, ranging from exploding fireworks to punctuating intimate moments (the young lovers in the shadows), also impressed. There truly is something here for everyone.

The Drury Lane’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is a winner. Letting the actors’ natural charisma shine, this tale isn’t bogged down by politics. I had forgotten about the line “building a wall around our country”, just as embarrassingly topical now as when this was written way back in 1951. This version focuses squarely on the battle of wills, if not the battle of the sexes. Wonderfully crafted, you’ll be “whistling a happy tune” long after you leave the theater.

photos by Brett Beiner

The King and I
Drury Lane Theatre
100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace
Wed at 1:30; Thurs at 1:30 & 8;
Fri at 8; Sat at 5 & 8; Sun at 2 & 6
ends on May 22, 2022
for tickets, call 630.530.0111 or visit Drury Lane

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

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