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Review | The King & I | The Lowry | 09/01/2023

Based on Margret Landon’s novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’, this Rogers & Hammerstein classic first hit Broadway back in 1951. It is however perhaps best known to the masses for its 1956 film adaptation, winning an impressive five Oscars!

We meet Anna (Helen George), a British school teacher who has come to Siam to teach the King’s (Darren Lee) many children. When the two headstrong characters meet, Anna is upset to learn that her promised house wouldn’t transpire. Instead, she will be living in the palace with the King, which is not up for discussion, despite Anna’s defiance. It soon becomes apparent that their customs and ideas around gender equality differ greatly! These themes are contentious ones, but they are generally handled well in this production.

From his recent success with adaptations of To Kill A Mockingbird and My Fair Lady, the audience are in safe hands under Bartlett Sher’s direction. It feels classic yet timeless throughout, a tricky balance to get right without feeling dated. In a time where older musicals are being boldly revived, it is almost refreshing to see a classic show done in a more traditional way.

Catherine Zuber’s sublime costuming lit up the stage with colour and opulence. The production itself is slick, with transitions between scenes done behind an imposing gold curtain to ensure the audience aren’t distracted by moving parts. What isn’t as slick is the pacing. Once we get into the story it is really enjoyable, but it takes time to get there. At just under three hours long, slimming down of the subplots would help achieve this without taking anything away from the show.

The highlight of this production is the wonderful Helen George as Anna. George was utterly charming in the role, bringing a warmth and strength to the character. It was almost like watching a young Julie Andrews on stage, an absolute privilege and joy to behold. Darren Lee plays the King of Siam, through careful choices showing a gradual and believable softening throughout. They make for a commanding leading pair and are supported by a huge cast who are truly faultless.

The music itself is of course wonderful, brought to life by the eleven piece orchestra. ‘Much of the score is beautifully performed against Christopher Gattelli and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, giving the sell out crowd all they wished for and more. It is however the comedy through much of the music that has the audience grinning from ear to ear.

There really is a lot to enjoy in this show, and it is easy to see why it is regarded as one of the finest classics in musical theatre. 'The King & I' plays at The Lowry until Saturday 13 January 2024.

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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