JUNE 16, 1997
Hayley Mills (left) stars as Anna in the 5th Avenue Theatre's presentation of The King and I.
Photo courtesy of 5th Avenue Theatre.
by Deborah Stone
The national touring production of The King and I, currently running at the 5th Avenue Theatre through June 29th, is an opulent feast for the eyes. Directed by Christopher Renshaw, the well-known musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein dazzles audiences with its spectactular and lavish sets and costumes.
Set in the exotic Far East in the 1860s, the show tells the tale of an adventurous Englishwoman, Anna Leonowens, who becomes governess to the many children of King Mongkut of Siam, a most stubborn and autocratic monarch. The culture clash that ensues between these two characters and the eventual understanding they reach is at the crux of the story. It is a tale touched by humor and bittersweet poignancy.
The North American tour of The King and I is headed up by the celebrity actress Hayley Mills as Anna. Although Mills does a confident job of acting her role, she seriously lacks in her ability to sing her musical numbers. Her voice sounded scratchy and shrill, and it was very apparent that she was straining to reach certain notes. This was unfortunate, as it distracted from such well-loved songs as "Hello Young Lovers," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," and "Shall We Dance."
Vee Talmadge, as the King, made his presence all-too-known with his heavy handling of the role, showing the audience only a one-sided view of the King. He lacked the interesting complexity and inner dimension of his character.
The largely Asian-American supporting cast was solid, with memorable performances by Luzviminda Lor as Tuptim and opera singer Helen Yu as Lady Thiang. Of particular note was the famous drama/dance number "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," which clearly captivated the audience with its use of masks, dolls, and other interesting props.
Despite the weaknesses of both Mills and Talmadge, The King and I is a luscious and splendid production that will satisfy theatregoers' appetite for a night of extravagence.