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Etcetera, etcetera and so forth: A Review of Broadway in Cincinnati’s “The King and I”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The King and I: Broadway in Cincinnati

Elena Shaddow and Jose Llana in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I

Mixing the exotic orient with geopolitical politics, Rodgersand Hammerstein’s The King and I has been given new life in a touring production appearing at the Aronoff Center for the Arts as part of Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati presented by TriHealth.

Bringing together the same talent which presented the touring revival of South Pacific a few years ago, this production of The King and I won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical Revivial.  The musical tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow) who contracts with the King of Siam (Jose Llana) to be an English teacher for his seventy-plus children, as well as the wives who are in favor with the king.  

Act I sees Anna finding a home in Siam (literally and figuratively), while Act II tells the story of courtly intrigue with one of the king’s wives Tuptim (Q Lim) and the King’s need to impress the British Ambassador Sir Edward Ramsey (Baylen Thomas) so that Siam does not end up as a British Protectorate (Spoiler: in real life, Siam stays free and independent until the country became the modern-day state of Thailand in 1932).

The King and I is a massive, sprawling musical and this production does an excellent job at keeping the plot moving and clarifying relationships amongst the different characters.  This production also has a strong singing cast.  Every actor is in top vocal form and presented impressive renditions of the famous songs from the show.

Elena Shaddow was a standout as Anna.  She combines poise and confidence with powerhouse singing skills.  She fleshes out Anna into a believable and compelling character who can be both fiery and vulnerable.  Her rendition of “Hello Young Lovers” was particularly charming and showcased her vocal talents beautifully.

Jose Llana as the King of Siam is a force of nature on stage.  Llana possesses great power and majesty as becoming his royal role, while also being able to deliver the king’s laugh lines as he pokes fun of Western culture and Anna’s insistence at having a house outside of the palace.  His solo song “A Puzzlement” beautifully displays Llana’s acting skills and singing prowess.  It is a tour de force performance.

Also strong vocal standouts were Q Lim as Tuptim and Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang.  Lim’s rendition of “My Lord and Master” was subtle, nuanced, and extremely moving.  Similarly, Almedilla’s “Something Wonderful” brought shivers down my spine.  Both actors were powerhouse actors, which makes these songs all the more enjoyable.

Special praise also needs to go to set designer Michael Yeargan.  In order to depict the various spaces within the palace, he created an ingenious set of movable pillars that float slightly over the stage. They move as needed to create the throne room or a smaller space in the palace.  Also outstanding were the drapery that acted as a stage curtain.  It provides a simple, but elegant stage curtain which shimmers in different colors under the stage lights.

In had misgivings about seeing this warhorse of the American stage because done incorrectly, this play could become a tedious bore.  This production was a wonderful delight, fresh in is storytelling and compelling with interactions between Anna and the King of Siam.

This is a must-see production and one of the stronger touring shows this season.

The King and I runs from April 10 to 22 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Aronoff Center Box Office at (513) 621-2787 or by going to their website https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/events.