The musical The King and I is based on the "semi-fictionalized biographical novel" Anna and the King, which is based on the memoirs of a woman named Anna Leonowens. Anna was the teacher of the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s. The musical is thrice removed from reality (there is some debate over the accuracy of the memoirs), but it is quite a fascinating historical story. Wikipedia tells me that "Thailand is the only Southest Asian nation never to have been colonized,*" perhaps in part because King Mongkut adopted some Western ways, including having his 82 (!) children educated in Western language and culture. In the musical the King often remarks on things being "scientific," and according to Wikipedia that's a direct reference to the missionaries, who not only taught the children Western culture, but also tried to convert them to Christianity. Before becoming King, Mongkut was a Buddhist monk, so it seems that he wanted to educate his children (and more largely, his country) in the ways of the modern world, while still holding true to Siam's traditions and culture. It's an interesting struggle and balancing act faced by many, to assimilate to the world around you while retaining your cultural identity, but perhaps that's too deep of a discussion for this frothy musical.
|one must always keep one's head lower than|
the King's (photo by Matthew Murphy)
This is a really wonderful cast, and it's a rare and beautiful thing to see so much Asian-American talent on stage (although we in the Twin Cities are pretty used to it, thanks to Mu). As the King himself, Jose Llana is so charming and likable, very comfortable and natural in the role (which he also played on Broadway). His King is part spoiled little boy, part fierce ruler, and part devoted husband and father (to his many wives and many many children). He has great chemistry with Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna, who sings like a dream and makes Anna a heroine to root for. Everyone in the cast is great, down to the littlest and cutest children. Of note, it's nice to see Manna Nichols in the Twin Cities again, who fortunately has more to do as the King's rebellious wife than she did as Liat in South Pacific at the Guthrie last year, although unfortunately just as unlucky in love. But at least she gets to sing a couple of beautiful ballads this time!
|"Shall We Dance?" Yes, please! (photo by Matthew Murphy)|
This beautifully done classic musical continues at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre though this weekend only!
*For more on the effects of colonization, see We Are Proud to Present in the Guthrie studio. Seriously, go see it!