Review: The King and I, New Theatre, Cardiff

Andy Howells visits Cardiff’s New Theatre to review The King and I starring Maria Coyne and Darren Lee.

Following an overture courtesy of the orchestra led by Christopher Mundy, The Lincoln Center Theater’s Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I sails its way on to the stage of Cardiff’s New Theatre via the deck of the Chow Phya and the docks of 1860s Bangkok.

The classic musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, of whom the King, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.

The musical doesn’t take long to get underway with tight choreography from the ensemble cast leading the narrative through numbers such as I Whistle A Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers and The March of the Siamese Children. Simultaneously the colourful meticulous set designs seamlessly transport the audience into the king’s throne room, the palace grounds, a garden and the theatre pavilion.

There is plenty to savour from the cast too. Maria Coyne (understudy for Helen George) makes a wonderful Anna Leonowens as she glides around the stage in her mantua dresses and takes on the pompous authority of Darren Lee’s King of Siam. The pair are a delight to watch as they playfully work the humour of their characters alongside the unfolding and sometimes overpowering drama. You almost wish they would become romantically entwined as the story unfolds, and the audience whoop and celebrate as chemistry peaks with their closest moment as they joyously perform Shall We Dance.

As Cezarah Bonner captivates us with her portrayal of the firm but caring Lady Thiang, she steals our attention further with a beautiful performance of Something Wonderful. There are also strong moments from Caleb Lagayan as Prince Chulalongkorn and Charlie McGuire as Louis Lenowns, as they perform A Puzzlement and Marienella Phillips and Dean John-Wilson as the doomed lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha when they sing A Kiss in The Shadow.

The King and I does feature a lot of showstopping moments, and I particularly enjoyed a lot of scenes featuring the children in the cast and the excellent dancers. My own favourite moment is undoubtedly the ensemble led by Rachel Wang-Hei Lau as Eliza performing the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas. Lavishly presented with precision and pace, you really feel you are experiencing a slice of historical theatre.

Judging how well The King and I was received by the New Theatre audience (one of the strongest appreciations I’ve seen for any musical throughout a show for a while) I feel its appeal remains Something Wonderful!

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