Shall we dance?
The King and I
King Mongkut, ruler of Siam in the 1860s, had 82 children. That’s a lot of tots. So, when staging Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, the musical loosely based on the king’s court, it means a bunch of young actors. Maybe not 82, but for Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre, now producing this romanticized tale of the teacher who teaches these kids, it’s close to 25 young performers, ranging in age from 3 to the teens.This is the theatrical debut for many of these budding thespians, and when all are onstage, with proud families beaming from the audience and with piano music backing the songs, the performance feels like a school play. But this school play has great costumes, good music and a couple of talented leads.
Garbeau’s worked with InterACT (Interactive Asian Contemporary Theatre) for this production, bringing in InterACT Artistic Director Dennis Yep as director and star. It’s an ambitious undertaking for Yep, who usually works with smaller casts and even smaller budgets, but it’s clear this production is close to his heart.
Not only is Yep an effective king in stance and delivery, he also brings a pathos to the role that sometimes is lost on more heavy-handed productions. The story is a bit problematic politically; it’s centered on a young British schoolmarm, who not only teaches the children but also “civilizes” a “backward” king. But Yep balances out the power with a dignified take on the tale. He also gives us a wonderful Asian ballet version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, re-titled The Small House of Uncle Thomas.
However, Yep’s big triumph is casting Kitty Kean as teacher Anna Leonowens. Kean totally captures the spirit and spunk of Anna while keeping her humanity, humility and humor intact. Blessed with a powerful, crystal-clear voice and seamless acting ability, Kean sparkles in every scene.
A couple areas need work to make this production excel. Though the staging is true to the script, the pacing drags during various scenes, such as the palace introductions, when the cute factor is high, but the tempo’s slow-mo. And, though the two talented pianists work their musical fingers to the bones during the two-and-a-half-hour production, there are places where the familiar score begs for some strings.
Nitpicking aside, the production is an enjoyable performance of a beloved musical, and with Garbeau’s offering kids’ prices for a show and meal ($20-$25) for the first time, it’s a perfect family outing, a chance for kids to see kids at work.