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“The King and I” Has Us Whistling A Happy Tune at the Aronoff Center

Review by Spenser Smith of The King and I: Broadway in Cincinnati

Talking with several friends during intermission of the near-capacity opening night of The King and I at the Aranoff, one could better understand how many dull productions have come before this 2015 Bartlett Sher revival. No synonyms can be used to describe the gorgeously captivating production currently on tour through August.

The story follows Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow) who has been contracted to tutor the many children of the King of Siam (Jose Llana). All 77 of them. Well, only those that “are worthy.” Minus the setting and 70 children we’ve got The Sound of Music. Anyway, the King is resistant to some of Anna’s teachings. He doesn’t understand how an all-knowing King wouldn’t already know the world is round or where to find his kingdom on a map etc, etc. Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla), the head wife, informs Anna that the King is not happy with the outside world’s view that he is a “barbarian” and the imminent arrival of a British envoy would be their chance to set the record straight. Hilarity ensues during “Western People Funny” when the wives attempt to master English customs overnight. The ballet performance of “The Small House of Uncle Tom” impresses the British envoy (and us) and Sir Edward is happy to report that the King is in no way barbaric. Shaddows’ portrayal of Anna is equal parts feisty and sincere. Her elegant soprano is effortless and despite less-than-stellar amplification you hear every word. Llana is a very funny King, but the more serious moments seem forced.

“Gorgeous” is the only way to describe designs by Michael Yeargan (sets) and Catherine Zuber (costumes). There was an audible gasp after the entrance of the navy blue curtains at the top of the second act. Curtains. It is quite obvious no expense was spared, although the set seemed very minimal for a three hour multi-location show featuring a cast of thirty seven. This gives due credit to the wonderful performances, gorgeous design elements and classic score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Musical staging and choreography by Christopher Gattelli are on fine display during the second act ballet, which is truly breathtaking. I was told that moment in the show is often thrown away, but in this production it truly shines.

This is your reminder to arrive early and use the restroom before the show begins. Act One is every bit of ninety minutes, but you’ll be anxious for “Something Wonderful” in the second half.

The King and I continues at the Aronoff Center through April 22.

For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at cincinnatiarts.org.