Following its adults-only production of The Full Monty, Candlelight Dinner Theatre now greets the summer with an entertaining revival of the family-friendly The King And I, trimmed of a few of its songs to get the kiddies (both those in the audience and those onstage) back home at a decent bedtime.

ShallWe4Fixed Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s fifth Broadway musical has been revived so many times over the past sixty-two years, and the film classic (starring Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, and the voice of Marni Nixon) been seen by so many millions, that few adults must remain unfamiliar with the tale of Anna Leonowens, who became schoolteacher to the children of the King of Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s.

Like R&H’s The Sound Of Music, recently revived by Candlelight, The King And I takes plenty of liberties with the lives of its real-life characters, but no matter. The King And I has become its own cottage industry, spawning not only the Oscar-winning movie and a full-length animated feature but four Broadway revivals and more regional productions than anyone could possibly ever count.

NewKing Millions upon millions have heard the show’s oft-performed and recorded hits, including “I Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Getting To Know You,” “Something Wonderful,” “I Have Dreamed,” and “Shall We Dance.” In fact, there’s hardly a song in The King And I that hasn’t become a standard.

Even today, 1951’s The King And I provides a still relevant example of how people from very different cultures can learn from each other and grow as human beings. Admittedly, in TK&I’s case, it’s mostly the “Siamese” who learn from the British, yet schoolteacher Anna Leonowens also learns a great deal from her experiences with the King of Siam and his people—how to be less judgmental and more respectful of a foreign culture, and how to look beyond the surface to the person within.

KingAnnaNoSitCrop With all this going for it, plus gifted director Neil Dale at the helm, two fine stars, a choreographer who appeared opposite Brynner in the 1977 Broadway revival, a talented supporting cast, gorgeous costumes, and a scrumptious pre-show dinner included in the ticket price, The King And I at Candlelight provides surefire entertainment for the entire family.

Clynell Jackson III won an Outstanding Lead Actor Scenie for playing the titular King for the FCLO Music Theatre in 2009, and he is equally commanding four years later. About his performance four years ago, I wrote: “Of all the Kings I’ve seen, Jackson comes the closest to matching the King by whom all Kings are judged, that of the late, great Brynner, who in 1985 received a Special Tony award honoring his mind-boggling 4,525 performances in the role. Like Brynner, Jackson brings gravitas and a real sense of power to the King; he is someone entirely believable as the sovereign of a great land. Intelligence and humor radiate throughout Jackson’s performance as well. No wonder an educated Englishwoman fell for this man who still believed that the world was carried on the back of a giant turtle.” The same holds true in 2013.

Surrounding Jackson on the Candlelight stage are some very talented performers indeed, beginning with his authentic English leading lady Jenny Moon Shaw, who brings a starched British properness and lovely soprano to the role. In addition, it is refreshing to see Anna played by an age-appropriate star. The real Anna Leonowens was a mere 31 when she began teaching the children of King Mongkut, yet over the years, the role has become a mainstay for “older” actresses. Deborah Kerr was nearly 50 when she played Anna in the film version and Stefanie Powers was a dozen years older than that when she headlined the 2005 National Tour. The lovely Shaw gives us an Anna we can believe as the mother of a young boy, and a woman we can believe would puzzle—and eventually conquer—a King.

Tup&LunCrop As star-crossed Burmese couple Tuptim and Lun Tha, Angela Briones and Richard Bermudez get The King And I’s gorgeous pair of love duets “We Kiss In A Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed,” and they sing them every bit as gorgeously as they look in costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre.

Sadly, we don’t get to hear Briones’ glorious soprano hit the high notes of “My Lord And Master,” one of several songs cut from the Candlelight production. To Shaw’s detriment, also missing is Anna’s solo showcase “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You,” in which she expresses her many frustrations with the King. Lady Thiang’s witty “Western People Funny,” and the brief ensemble number “The Royal Bangkok Academy,” get cut too, though The King And I still runs about two-and-a-half hours including intermission.

Tiang!TiangFixed Fortunately, Lady Thiang’s signature “Something Wonderful” remains, and if the stellar Stella Kim is at least a decade too young to be the mother of the King’s oldest son, Kim plays the part with depth and sings so beautifully that we gladly suspend disbelief.

In smaller roles, Jason Luke Hill (one of the younger princes in Fullerton nine years ago) and Wyatt Larrabee are charmers as Prince Chulalongkorn and Louis Leonowens. Frank Minano gives us two distinctly etched Brits as Captain Orton and Sir Edward Ramsay. Making his U.S. debut, an excellent Reuben Uy may be one of the handsomest Kralahomes on record, and will make a great King someday. Marius Beltran does fine work as the Interpreter.

IMG_4981 Then there are the wives, and a lovely, splendid bunch they are: dance captain Jeni Baker, Angela Calderon, Marie Gutierrez, Michelle M. Pedersen, Sarah Park, Abigail Somera, and Andrea Somera, with Justin Matthew Segura and Chad Takeda appearing in various male cameos.

The King’s most favored children were brought to life at the performance reviewed by Cast 1: Thalia Atallah, Addison Barnes, Kaitlyn Boyd, Marley Davis, Abigail Felix, Hailey Garibay, Emily Lynch, Natalie Lynch, Everett Jayaweera, Brooklyn Vizcarra, and Gracie Unger. Appearing at alternate performances are the children of Cast A: Sofia Aniceto, Olivia Aniceto, Julian Batt, Nicole Meacham, Carli Meacham, Katherine Minano, Sara Mislang Xavier Reynoso, Faith Teuber, Rhys Teuber, Elisabeth Ramirez, and Tia Walker. Their “March Of The Siamese Children” is once again one of the evening’s bona fide crowd-pleasers.


Having The King And I Broadway vet Simeon Den on hand to recreate Jerome Robbins’ iconic “The Small House Of Uncle Thomas” insures that the ballet’s trademark “Siamese” arm, hand, foot, and leg moves replicate those enshrined on film back in the 1950s, performed to stunning effect by uncredited ensemble members in the roles of Uncle Thomas, Little Eva, Topsy, Angel George, Masters, Dogs, and the evil King Simon of Legree.

Douglas Austin once again receives high marks as musical director, the cast’s vocals performed impeccably to pre-recorded tracks. Chuck Ketter’s colorful scenic design has just the right Asian flair. Sets and costumes are strikingly lit by Steve Giltner of SteveGDesign. Logan Grosjean is stage manager.

Even trimmed of several of its Rodgers And Hammerstein’s songs, The King And I remains an unforgettable musical theater classic. Those in doubt of the above need only head out to picturesque Claremont for proof positive.

Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
June 29, 2013

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