Rogers. Hammerstein. Anna. King. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Yesterday afternoon, we all went out to see “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. I must confess I wasn’t in the best of moods going in, as I had a headache starting (which turned into a full headache near intermission), and The King and I isn’t one of my favorite R&H pieces. The theatre staff also didn’t help my mood. We’re long time season subscribers (perhaps 10 years) with tickets in the balcony. Evidently, they had lower attendance yesterday, for they shunted us off to the mezzanine instead… but then sat us all the way on the side, instead of our normal “in the center” seats. They then only said we could have one program per family (which I’ve never seen), meaning we all couldn’t read the program before the show. Lastly, during this production the balcony mezzanine was filled with elementary school children who had not been educated on theatre decorum, plus at least two people had brought infants that cried during most of the second act. This didn’t lead to the greatest of show environments.

So, turning to the show itself. I’m sure we are all familiar with “The King and I”. It was the 5th Rogers and Hammerstein musical, coming two years after the successful “South Pacific”. After “The King and I”, R&H would have a string of unsuccessful or less successful musicals (“Me and Juliet, “Pipe Dream”, “Flower Drum Song”) until their final paydirt, “The Sound of Music”. I find “The King and I” to have a less engaging plot line, and although there are memorable songs, there seem to be fewer than usual. It is also one of the “old chestnuts”, as the main upbeat R&H musicals (“Oklahoma”, “The King and I”, and “The Sound of Music”) tend to be regulars in the regional circuit. Me? I want to see those lesser done ones.

As for the show’s plot. Many should know it from the beloved movie version. The R&H Theatricals site describes it thusly: “It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, having been summoned by the King to serve as tutor to his many children and wives. The King is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna’s assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story. Along with the dazzling score, the incomparable Jerome Robbins ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” is one of the all-time marvels of the musical stage.”

What makes a production of “The King and I” succeed or fail are its leads. For this production, Anna was played by former pop star Deborah Gibsonæ, and the King was played by Daniel Guzmanæ. Gibson did a good job with the role: I didn’t see outstanding flashes of character or something unique she brought to the role, but her singing and dancing were excellent. I was more impressed with Guzman, who seemed to bring a playfulness to the King that was a delight to see. The casting demonstrated the usual flaw of K&I: the casting often focuses on the Anna, whereas it is the King that makes or breaks the show.

The B storyline of the show concerns the ill-fated lovers, Lun Tha (Joseph Andres) and Janelle Velasquez. These two get the main love songs, and they do a good job on them. Otherwise, their scenes are primarily limited to the shadows, although Velasquez does have a small burst of character as she narrates “The Small Cabin of Uncle Tom” ballet. The C storyline is the friendship between the Prince Chulu-longkorn (Ben Gutierrez), who is heir to the King, and Louis (Michael Kennedy), Anna’s son. Both do well in the role, although their poor mic-ing in the reprise of “A Puzzlement” didn’t serve them well.

Rounding out the major cast members were Glenn Shiromaæ (The Kralahome), Annie Nepomuceno (Lady Thiang), John Gaston (Sir Edward Ramsay), David Gilchrist (Captain Orton), Aladdin Marquez (Phra Alack), Kristan Cleto (Interpreter), and Olivia Lee (Princess Ying Yaowlak). There was a large ensemble as Royal Princes and Princesses, Royal Wives, Amazons, Guard, and Priests, and as Royal Dancers. All did what they had to do (especially the children, who had to hit their marks and look cute), with no particular standouts.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical side: the locally-developed sets by T. Theresa Scarano didn’t appear to take advantage of the full Cabrillo stage, but were acceptable. The lighting design of Rand Ryan was more problematic, with heavy use of follow spots that served to distract from the action (however, I don’t know the lighting limitations of the house). Jonathan Burke’s sound design was problematic from the side of the house where we were shunted (I’m sure it would have been better from the center balcony, our normal seats), plus there were a few times where the actors mics appears not to be working. The costumes (under the supervision of Christine Gibson) and hair and makeup (Paul Hadobas) were excellent as always.

Lastly, to the backstage folks. The production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld, who is also Cabrillo’s Artistic Director. Heather Castillo served as choreographer, with Irene Cho doing the choreography for the “Small House of Uncle Thomas”. Both did excellent jobs — I was impressed overall by the movement in this piece. The ballet sequence (“Small House”) is perhaps dated these days, but does a good job of echoing the “B” storyline, as well as the importance of standing up to a king. Music Supervision was by Darryl Archibald, who also conducted the large 21-piece orchestra (who played with their usual excellence). Last, but certainly not least, was the “ever capable” 🙂 Lindsay Martens as Production Stage Manager, assisted by Mary Kimball and Emilee Wamble. Alas, we were unable to meet with Lindsay after the show due to her security demands — we hope to see her the next show.

Today (October 26, 2008) is the last performance of “The King and I”.

As for us, our next show is Saturday November 1 @ 8pm, when we are seeing “Blood Brothers – The Musical” at the Whitefire Theatre. On 11/8, we’re seeing “Into The Woods” at the Lyric Theatre in Hollywood. The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. 11/21 brings “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson. Friday 11/28 brings the last show of the RepEast season, “And Then There Were None”. December 4th, 5th, and 6th brings “Scapino” at Van Nuys High School (with nsshere doing the lighting). Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.