Dallas — Before the curtain went up on The King and I, Dallas Summer Musicals President Michael Jenkins stepped onstage and told Tuesday’s opening night audience that Rodgers and Hammerstein considered the score arising from the tale of an English school teacher’s encounter with the King of Siam the best work of their amazing career. First produced on Broadway in 1951, followed by the vivid 1956 film version starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, the show has become a beloved theater classic.
Certainly, DSM’s production of The King and I, directed by Glenn Casale, is a rich and moving musical theater experience, replete with exotic sets, ravishing costumes, a superb orchestra, spirited choreography and a hall full of voices buoyed up by the beautiful score. The show runs almost three hours, including a 20-minute intermission, and also includes 14 songs that are part of the great American musical canon. It all begins with “I Whistle a Happy Tune.”
York’s soprano voice is radiant and clear, and she has the range and depth to give feeling and style to all her songs, from evoking a joyous memory in “Hello, Young Lovers” to creating an engaging warmth singing “Getting to Know You” with the king’s stair-step children. She’s hilariously furious singing “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You,” a rant of what she’d love to tell His Majesty to his face.
She becomes excited and vulnerably feminine bending to the king’s lead in their rousing song and dance version of “Shall We Dance?” Who could turn either of them down?
The young lovers themselves have a powerful chemistry and terrific voices. Yoonjeong Seong is an exquisite Tuptim, a recent “gift” to the King from a neighboring fiefdom. Tuptim loves her guard, Lun Tha, played by a handsome and ardent Devin Ilaw. Her soaring soprano and his virile tenor vibrate with desire and longing in “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.”
Tami Swartz is a dignified mezzo with patience and class as Lady Thiang, the King’s Number One Wife, and her heartfelt delivery of “Something Wonderful” makes us see a benevolent aspect of the King’s despotic disposition.
The children locally cast from Dallas and surrounding cities, are charming, as individuals and as a chorus, especially in the famously endearing “The March of Siamese Children.”
Calsale’s direction is fluid and Michael Anania’s lavish sets (originally design for Lyric Stage in Irving), from ship decks to palace courts are beautifully enhanced by Charlie Morrison’s lighting design. Costume World Theatrical provided the costumes, and York is gorgeously attired throughout. Music Director Craig Barna keeps the tempo moving, and Bob Richard’s restaging of Jerome Robbins’ choreography energizes the musical themes. "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is enthralling.
Get a coffee at intermission (it’s a long musical, you’ll remember), and enjoy the show.
» Read our interview with director Glenn Casale, in which he talks about the casting change with the King after protests from the Asian-American community