Quote of the Day: How can I believe in something I’ve never seen for myself? asks one of the King’s sons after a lesson from Anna on snow. What is the point of education if you won’t allow yourself to learn from your teachers? (paraphrase) from The King and I, exchange between Anna, the King, and his son. How do you know what is the truth unless you see/experience it for yourself? How do you know who to trust to teach you when the world is filled with manipulators? These were my questions as I watched the story unfold.

Laura Michelle Kelly, Baylen Thomas and Graham Montgomery in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I is on tour and made a stop at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN. I was fortunate to get a couple press passes and brought my college-age son Zach with me. We had a great conversation on the drive home about the show, its messages and themes, the superiority complex of European/Americans, and looking critically at how the world and its people are portrayed through our stories and art. 

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Photo by Matthew Murphy

I am always amazed by touring shows and how they can set up and tear down elaborate sets as they move from city to city. From the opening scene in The King and I with the bow of a ship that fills the entire stage, to a giant Buddha who towers over the scene, to all the details of the drapery, props, set changes, gorgeous costumes, and all the cast and crew who must relocate and keep it fresh from opening week to closing performance. And, this production includes several children. 

The crowd cheered when Anna (played stunningly by Laura Michelle Kelly) made her first appearance, and after each solo. They cooed at the cute kids as they made their entrances. I heard sighs at the sight of the dancers, who truly take your breath away. The choreography and performance are impeccable. All the women have gorgeous voices. Zach and I agreed that we heard notes of Julie Andrews from Laura. It might have been that the score is also by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It might be that she also has a British accent. It might also be because she loves children and teaching and guiding them to think beyond what they know. She challenges the King and his ways. And, it’s because Laura Kelly has a gorgeous voice of her own.

This is actually a sad musical. Not all the endings are happy. We see injustices. We cringe at the harem, slavery, and women being sold off or offered up as gifts. The King has invited Anna to Siam (Thailand) to teach his children and the wives “who are in good favor with the King.” She demands that he keep his promises to pay her fairly and provide a house of her own, not in the palace or harem. He points out that he’s the King and can do whatever he pleases. She reminds him that she is an employee, not a resident of Siam, his harem, nor his property, and that she can leave at any time. Jose Llana does well to portray the inner conflict of the King of Siam, who wants to be seen as progressive and scientific, and yet, demands that his kingdom still bow down to him. 

I grew up hearing and singing show tunes. I love the score to The King and I! I “Whistle a Happy Tune” whenever I feel afraid. I hum the song “Getting to Know You” at each new venture, and I smile each time I remember the song “Shall We Dance.” (I might even do a little two-step in my living room if no one is home.) It’s a 1950’s musical. It has romance, gorgeous music, elaborate set, darling costumes, and a bit of racism. 

The creators pointed out that slavery was wrong in Siam, America, and anywhere else that it still exists. They also perpetuated stereotypes in their portrayal of people from varied ethnic backgrounds. They show the European/American belief that the Western way is the right way and that it takes an outsider to create change. The production team for the current touring show did extensive research into the book, revised it, and did their best to give a fair portrayal of the characters and story.

You can see The King and I at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN through March 5. The audience on Opening Night loved the show, giving the performance a standing ovation. The orchestra was spectacular. Bravo!

The cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The tour has just begun, so look for performances near you at The King and I tour website. They also have more wonderful photos and videos for you to enjoy, as well as more background information on the production. I found a blog about the re-imagined production at the Lincoln Center starring Daniel Dae Kim (Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii 5-0) interviewing the actor. He points out that this is one of the few leading man roles that he’d ever get to play on Broadway as there are limited roles for Asian-American actors.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Have you ever looked at an older story with new eyes and seen the flaws?