IT’S a heart-warming tale that has thrilled millions across the decades and now, and gloriously, The King and I reached Nottingham’s Theatre Royal this week and gave its audiences a rare treat.
An amazing 60 years have passed since an unknown Yul Brynner was cast as the King of Siam on the Broadway stage and subsequently starred in a screen version which brought him a shaven head and an Academy Award.
Today, a new generation can discover a show which combines a strong storyline with one of the most beautiful scores in musical theatre.
The story of the British governess hired to tutor the King’s many children is derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became governess to the children of King Mongut of Siam in the early 1860s.
So the plot is strong enough in itself but it becomes exceptional when set to the music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
The real-life Mongut successfully adopted Western science and ideas and maintained his country’s independence during that period of Empire-building.
This is explored in the show but it’s his relationship with Anna, packed with conflict and undeclared love, which grips the attention.
Against a spectacular and colourful set, Ramon Tikaram (Bombay Dreams and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar) and Josefina Gabrielle (Sweet Charity and the lead in Oklahoma at the National Theatre) excel.
There are are equally compelling performances from Adrian Li Donni and Claire-Marie Hall as the doomed young lovers and you need the Kleenex at hand during their handling of the poignant ballads We Kiss in The Shadows and I Have Dreamed. Maya Sapone as Lady Thiang (Something Wonderful) is also in excellent voice.
Then there are the children and those other marvellous numbers, some of which are now classic standards – Shall We Dance, I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers and Getting to Know You. Emphatically, any doubts that a 1950s musical may appear dated in 2012 can be set aside.
The King and I is produced by John Stalker on behalf of Music and Lyrics Ltd, a consortium of 15 theatres with the aim of presenting one major musical each year.
If this is an example, under the directorship of Paul Kerryson, it is guaranteed success.