Review: The King and I, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

The big question for me was whether this iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical could stand the test of time and entertain a new generation.

There was no need for concern, as a rapturous audience confirmed it to be as popular now as when first performed back in 1951.

In true musical theatre style, we were teased with an orchestral overture led by Malcolm Forbes-Peckham, and by the time the first gilded curtain rose, our anticipation was at boiling point.

We were not disappointed as mesmerising court dancers set the Siamese scene. Congratulations must go to the prop department, we watched in awe as Anna and son Louis disembarked from a fully operational sailing vessel!

A deliciously prim Anna, played by the accomplished Maria Coyne wasted no time in asserting her authority, and astonished an incredulous King, played with authority, humour and eventually vulnerability by Jose Llana, as she continually diminished him over his lack of honour in not providing the house he had promised her.

Their feisty relationship, which eventually developed into mutual respect and possibly love, whilst at the very heart of the storyline, also highlighted the struggle between tradition and modern. This was further emphasized when the King was put under stress to change quickly in order to protect his country and people against colonisation from both the British and French forces.

It wasn’t difficult to be drawn into the web of forbidden love between the two lovers, Tuptim (Jessica Gomes-Ng) and Lun Tha (Ethan Le Phong) and their tragic love story unfolded to great musical numbers such as the eternal ‘Hello Young Lovers’, ‘We Kiss in a Shadow’ and ‘I Have Dreamed’.

Cezarah Bonner as the King’s first wife, Lady Thiang, showed the necessary humility and subservience in his company, but alone with Anna showed true grit and capability with a resounding rendition of ‘Something Wonderful’, much to the audience’s delight.

Naturally, the showstopper was Anna and the King’s poignant yet powerful rendition of ‘Shall We Dance’, and the scene was further made magical by the painstaking attention to detail in both costume and choreography.

The ‘play within a play’ of traditional Siamese ballet interpreting the story of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ provided nothing less than a spectacle – long may this musical reign!

  • The King and I runs at Wales Millennium Centre from January 8 – 18, 2020

  • Photographs by Johann Persson and Matthew Murphy

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