The King and I
I could see the Lincoln Center Theater revival of The King and I a hundred times and always find something new to love about it. Director Bartlett Sher's production is just so rich and layered, as much a satisfying drama as it is a feast for the eyes and ears. Its strengths are even more apparent with the recasting of the main roles: Marin Mazzie (Ragtime, Passion) is now playing Anna opposite Lost star Daniel Dae Kim, making a memorable Broadway debut. Where this production's original Anna and the King (Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe) brought vulnerability to their roles, Mazzie and Kim offer seemingly impenetrable hardness. It's a choice that makes their fraught relationship and eventual surrender to romance even more electrifying.
The King and I is Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's take on the story of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (Mazzie) in the court of Siam. The King (Kim) rules over his domain with unquestioned authority, but he's never encountered someone like Anna, a willful widow who doesn't take no for an answer. He promised her a house of her own in his employment letter, and she intends for him to make good on it. Meanwhile, Tuptim (Ashley Park), a "gift" to the King from a neighboring despot, dreams of a life with her secret lover, Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora). As a British delegation led by Sir Edward Ramsey (Edward Baker-Duly) nears Bangkok, the King becomes increasingly torn between his dual impulses to modernize and reassert his traditional royal authority.
The production values are still top-notch, with Catherine Zuber's exotic costumes and Michael Yeargan's operatic sets appearing brand-new. A giant orchestra pit populated with 29 tuxedoed musicians accompanies the show. Nothing currently on Broadway is more opulent and few moments more thrilling than when Anna and the King polka through the cavernous depths of the Vivian Beaumont as Andrew Resnick conducts "Shall We Dance?"
Taking command of the stage from the moment she sails over the orchestra pit in a steamer, Mazzie exudes a British stubbornness, her protests against the King more angry than sad. Mazzie's Anna is clearly an independent woman accustomed to getting along just fine without the help of a man, thank you. Her lovely voice occasionally breaks through her hard exoskeleton, but never long enough for anyone onstage to notice.
Kim, though not much of a singer (he Rex Harrisons every other line in his one solo), makes up for a thin voice with a powerful presence: He plays an energetic, ambitious, and, frankly, sexy King of Siam. Eschewing the Yul Brynner shave, he crowns himself with a very cool wedge of hair that wouldn't look out of place on 23rd Street. His physical presence is at once alluring and dangerous. Bombastic and slightly rash, he peers out at the audience and says, "I would like to build a fence around Siam," pausing for effect.
Obviously, his inflated machismo infuriates Anna. The feelings are mutual. They fight and flirt, occasionally allowing a furtive smile to betray their secret exhilaration. These two tough nuts seem destined to crack each other wide open, and when they do, it is positively magical: The moment Kim wraps his arm around Mazzie's waist for their big dance is about as erotic as a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical can get.
Several members of the original supporting cast remain, including the dashing Ricamora and the heartbreaking Park. Ruthie Ann Miles has further perfected her Tony-winning performance as Lady Thiang: The head wife and mother to the next King, she wields a menacing mom smile that threatens to cut down any wayward wives and children. Her voice is the aural equivalent of an Olympic figure skater gliding across a frozen pond — beautiful and pure, especially on her straight tones. Everyone in the cast is as committed as they were on opening night.
If you haven't yet seen this show, you really ought to. And even if you have, you haven't seen it quite like this. Mazzie and Kim are just the latest additions to a Broadway gift that keeps on giving.