Some Stories Stay Timeless

Revisiting Anna and The King of Siam

The multi-Tony-winning musical The King and I  marches on. This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic still has a lot to offer, including enduring wonderful songs such as “Getting To Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and “Shall We Dance?” Plus a timeless and fascinating, pointed story based on real events.

Surely the essentials are familiar. It looks back on a strong-willed and intelligent English woman’s struggling attempts to modernize life confronting a fierce monarch’s power in mid-19th Century Siam. What may not be remembered is Hammerstein’s impetus to bring this to the stage: slavery. He calls  attention to that in the imperiled life of slave Tuptim and with the symbolic narrated dance “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” an Asian perspective on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. As is often the case, Hammerstein created substantial drama.  

Front and center, however, is his adaptation of Margaret Landon’s novelization of a memoir by Anna Leonowens. There that self-assured woman seeks to help the King in a desire to get his nation to move with the times and throw off colonialism while still protecting ancient traditions and identity. That conflict mirrors how Anna and The King contend, while, beneath that heat, another kind of warmth binds them.

This production, like the original one, won several Tonys. Best Musical in 1952, running for three years. Best Revival in 2015, running for over a year. Bartlett Sher directed the latest one on Broadway. He’s a Tony winner himself: 2008 in another R & H classic: South Pacific. Six nominations too. His credits also include directing at the Metropolitan Opera.

The New York Times said that he “sheds a light that isn’t harsh or misty but clarifying,” in “its most impressive achievement is how it balances epic sweep with intimate sensibility.”

Getting to know it all over again.

The King and I unfolds January 16-21, in Slosburg Hall, at Orpheum Theater, 409 S 16th St. Tues.Weds. Thurs: 7:3o p.m. Fri.: 8 p.m. Sat.: 2 & 8 p.m. Sun.: 1:30 & 7 p.m. Tickets $59- $133.

Category: Stage

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