Saturday, September 15, 2012

Theater of the Stars Shines Again with The King and I

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting The Fox Theater and viewing Theater of the Stars' ("TOTS") production of The King and I.

Having never seen the movie, I was excited to see a live production, especially one put on by TOTS as they are known for their excellent productions and for recruiting both aspiring theater locals and seasoned professionals from across the country.  From the opening scene when the curtain rose, I was not disappointed.  This was easily one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing sets ever produced by Theater of the Stars.  The costumes and stage set were amazing -- stunning Siamese costumes and a lavish set depicting the royal palace.

If, like me, you are not familiar with the story of Anna Leonownens and the King of Siam, let me quickly bring you up to speed.  Ms. Leonownes was a British Governness who was brought to old Siam to help modernize the country by tutoring the King's children (of which he had many).  As you would expect, both Ms. Leonowens' customs and the King of Siam's customs clash immediately.

Ronobir Lahiri plays the King of Siam, and he gave a performance that completely captured the essence of a King being challenged on everything he believes.  At times, he is arrogant, angry, and furious.  At other times, he is light-hearted and we can see he is clearly captivated by Ms. Leonowens.

Mr. Lahiri appeared to be comfortable and at ease in his role, as he should be -- Ronobir is a veteran of the show, having played in the Broadway, West End, and multi-country touring productions.

Victoria Mallory, a Theater of the Stars veteran, played Anna Leonowens.  To hear Ms. Mallory sings songs such as the famous, "Getting to Know You," was a treat.  Her resume includes productions of West Side Story and Carnival.  She did not fail when it came to bring Ms. Leonowens to life.  What a voice!

Together, Ronobir and Victoria struck gold, playing their parts beautifully and and in harmony.

As you can imagine, over time, our main characters, the King of Siam and Ms. Leonowens, grow to accept and fall in love each other.  Ms. Leonowens falls in love with the country of Siam and all of the Kings' children she is tutoring, and the King falls in love with Ms. Leonowens' strong, independent personality eventually accepting some of the ideas and modern ways she brings before his throne.  It is a story true to the repertoire of Rodgers and Hammerstein - a quaint love story tangled with political/social issues (which, by the way, are just as important today as they were in the 1950s when this play first appeared).

Ronobir Lahiri and Victoria Mallory
Speaking of Rodgers and Hammerstein ("R&H"), their original production of The King and I opened on Broadway in 1951, adapted from Anna Leonowens' own original memoirs.  At first, R&H didn't think they could adapt the memories into a musical, but aren't we glad they did?  The songs in this musical are now famous across the American landscape ("Getting to Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," and Something Wonderful," among others).  The King and I stands strong among the legendary R&H body of work (The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, and South Pacific, etc). 

Before I wrap up my review, let me bring two other talent to the forefront:
  • Ali Ewoldt as Tuptim (a slave brought from Burma to be one of the King's Junior Wives) - Ms. Ewoldt recently returned from a year on the road playing Maria from West Side Story, and her Broadway credits include, among other things, Les Miserables.  But, two of my personal favorites on her resume are playing Jasmine from Disney's Aladdin and being a member of the cast of Encore! from Disney's Tokyo DisneySea.  Her performances on songs such as, "We Kiss in a Shadow" with Joshua Dela Cruz as Lun Tha, were amazing.  I heard a lot of people murmuring about her performance as we left the Fox Theater opening night.  Write her name down and bookmark it.  You will be hearing more from this young lady in the future.

  • Raul Aranas as Kralahome (the King's Prime Minister) - Mr. Aranas' performance is strong and powerful.  He brings the fear of the Siamese rule to the play, and his performances were hard-hitting and realistic.  I loved the raw edge he brought.  Mr. Aranas' credits include Miss Saigon and the King and I on Broadway and Shogun Off-Broadway.

TOTS Producer Christopher Manos says of this production, "The King and I has always been a favorite of mine, and I am thrilled to work with Broadway legend Baayork Lee as our director and the extremely talented Susan Kikuchi as our choreographer."  Both Baayork and Susan did an incredible job of bringing this old musical to life.  It's still as fresh today as it was in 1951."

*Photo courtesy of Fenuxe.
I will have to agree with Mr. Manos.  Ms. Baayork and Ms. Kikuchi did an excellent job of bringing this production to life for TOTS, from the incredible set designs and lavish and stunning costumes to the incredible choreography employed throughout this play (especially, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" scene).

If you would like to support TOTS and future theatrical productions, you can become a part of their "family" by becoming a Subscriber.  Their next show will be The Producers (January 25 - January 30), and their final show will be a personal favorite of mine, as a Disney fan, Mary Poppins (April 2 - April 7).

There are always opportunities for participation with TOTS from sponsorships to getting a closer look at how they bring musical theater to life at The Fox Theater.  You can contact them at 404.252.8960 or their website and facebook pages to find out more.

As a frequent visitor to The Fox Theater and TOTS productions, I encourage you to Subsribe to TOTS and give Atlanta theater a try. 

*Special thank you to Beth Carter and Lauren Wilson, Marketing Inspirations Ticker

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