5 reasons to catch the ‘King and I’ in Dayton this weekend

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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We visited the cast of The King and I, playing at the Schuster Center Feb. 12-17, 2019, to get a close look at the Tony-award winning costumes.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Years before Rodgers and Hammerstein broke new ground with a TV adaptation of “Cinderella” and solidified their iconic legacy with “The Sound of Music,” they took Broadway by storm with the cross-cultural relevancy and tuneful bliss of their 1951 collaboration “The King and I,” which has received an outstanding national tour continuing through Sunday, Feb. 17 at the Schuster Center courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series.

Most recognizable for its 1956 Academy Award-winning film version starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, “The King and I,” set in 1860s Bangkok, depicts a playful battle of wills between British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens and the equally headstrong King of Siam, one of the most fascinating couples in musical theatre history. As their complex relationship evolves, both learn touching, heartwarming lessons about friendship, compromise, and the power of forgiveness. Here are five reasons why you should consider getting to know this marvelous production.

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The critically acclaimed 2015 Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” will be presented Feb. 12-17 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED/MATTHEW MURPHY

The critically acclaimed 2015 Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” will be presented Feb. 12-17 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED/MATTHEW MURPHY
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The critically acclaimed 2015 Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” will be presented Feb. 12-17 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED/MATTHEW MURPHY

A STRIKING FOUNDATION 

This tour is based on Lincoln Center Theater’s critically acclaimed 2015 production which received four Tony Awards including best revival and best costumes. Shelley Butler elegantly restages Bartlett Sher’s sharp, striking direction, which incorporates the Asian community more effectively than previous incarnations. For example, when Anna (Angela Baumgardner, terrific) and her son Louis (Hayden Berry) arrive in Bangkok disguising their fear while singing “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” they are immediately overwhelmed by culture shock in the busy streets. This production also takes a deeper look at the role of women and their relationships with each other, particularly Anna and the King’s head wife Lady Thiang (DeAnna Choi, excellent) and Anna and Lady Thiang’s interactions with slave Tuptim (sublime soprano Paulina Yeung).

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The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” comes to the Schuster Center Feb. 12-17. CONTRIBUTED

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” comes to the Schuster Center Feb. 12-17. CONTRIBUTED
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The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” comes to the Schuster Center Feb. 12-17. CONTRIBUTED

A STRONG WOMAN EMPOWERS A NATION

Anna is perhaps the strongest female character given voice by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Journeying from England as a widow and showcasing her value, intellect, determination, and grit despite constant scorn from the King and his loyal Kralahome (an imposing Bern Tan), Anna ultimately empowers a nation and an entire generation beyond imagination. “Anna is so brave,” said Baumgardner, who grew up in Oklahoma immersed in the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. “I so admire Anna’s courage being a single woman coming to a new country that’s completely different than what she’s used to. She really stands up for herself and is very strong. I love the strength of her principles and beliefs.”

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Pedro Ka’awaloa portrays the King of Siam. “I love this king because we watch him go on a journey,” he said. CONTRIBUTED

Pedro Ka’awaloa portrays the King of Siam. “I love this king because we watch him go on a journey,” he said. CONTRIBUTED
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Pedro Ka’awaloa portrays the King of Siam. “I love this king because we watch him go on a journey,” he said. CONTRIBUTED

A KING MADE IN HIS OWN IMAGE

It’s safe to say no one will ever duplicate Brynner’s tailor-made brilliance, but Pedro Ka’awaloa does a great job establishing his own authoritative charm as the King. More comic than stoic, Ka’awaloa brings a refreshing youthfulness to the role opposite Baumgardner as well as standout Timothy Matthew Flores as Prince Chulalongkorn (Flores certainly knows how to flip a coat with flair). And in a perfect example of how the more things change the more things stay the same, listen carefully when the King chats with Anna about his desire to build a fence around his country.

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“The King and I” tells the story of an English governess who comes to Siam to teach the King’s children. CONTRIBUTED

“The King and I” tells the story of an English governess who comes to Siam to teach the King’s children. CONTRIBUTED
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“The King and I” tells the story of an English governess who comes to Siam to teach the King’s children. CONTRIBUTED

A BRIGHT CLOUD OF MUSIC

Richard Rodgers always had a passion for opera. He considered 1945’s “Carousel” his favorite score, but “The King and I” beautifully reflects his operatic scope as a composer. Yeung’s gorgeous rendition of “My Lord and Master” is an early knockout and she’s also remarkable alongside Dongwoo Kang (Lun Tha) during “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” Baumgardner is notable for her gently reflective “Hello, Young Lovers” and the emotional layers she provides throughout the soliloquy “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”

A GOWN AND A POLKA TO REMEMBER

If there’s one scene that’s always been the hallmark of any production of “The King and I” it’s “Shall We Dance?” The number is vibrantly brought to life here with attractive zest and romance. “It’s one of my favorite visual moments,” Baumgardner said. “The ball gown weighs 40 pounds and kind of becomes a third partner in the dance. Pedro and I practiced a lot in order to get the right flow and movement. Even as we stop the gown keeps going because it has a movement of its own. Throughout the show, you really see Anna and the King come to an understanding. This show is about two very different cultures and two very different people coming together and finding common ground in order to go forward together.”


WANT TO GO?

What: "The King and I"

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: Through Feb. 17; 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $26-$99

Tickets: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com

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