“The King and I” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ October 3, 2011


Theatre Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s exotic “The King and I” is the team’s finest show.  The east-meets-west story set in Siam in 1862 pits Anna, an English school marm in Bangkok to teach the King’s children against the King who struggles with his desire to westernize his country.  The lovely songs combine Siamese musical flavorings with traditional tunes, while the ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” is a fascinating eastern twist on the popular “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“The King and I” is difficult for community theaters to produce.  It’s filled with lush palace settings and elaborate period costumes.  The orchestra must vary between subtle Oriental orchestrations and conventional song hits, while the lead performers are musically and dramatically challenged.  With these daunting circumstances, Theater Works mounts a proficient, but not flawless, “The King and I.”

Director Athena Hunting keeps the long show moving well and her judicious cuts eliminate unnecessary songs and dialogue without destroying the dramatic tension.  “The King and I” is one of the few musicals without any outward love between the leads but there’s an unstated romantic linkage between the King and Anna that must be revealed.  Hunting copies many sequences from the excellent film version and why not duplicate perfection?

And while Theater Works’ production lacks the opulence of recent professional stagings, it has understated beauty.  Small annoyances can’t be overlooked like Anna’s hoop skirts that ride inappropriately off the floor or her too frilly ball gown.  Laggardly scene changes slow the production but the small orchestra plays the score with fine musical pacing.  Some choreography is ordinary but the tricky Uncle Thomas ballet is remarkable, if heavily influenced, as it should be, by Jerome Robbins original creation.

Theater Works is using professional performers in lead roles.  Jay Espano’s King is heavily influenced by Yul Brynner’s definitive original interpretation but it works perfectly.  Kristi MacEwan’s Anna is less successful.  She lacks the role’s mandated fire and conviction and her problematic singing drifts off key in the opening of too many songs.  Although she finds proper pitches later in most tunes, she doesn’t have the vocal chops to sing Anna and her British accent waivers alarmingly.  MacEwan and Espano only hint and too late at the unspoken romance between them.  The huge children’s chorus plays the King’s brood with charming cuteness but amazing precision while the supporting roles and the King’s wife’s are well portrayed.

If you’ve never seen “The King and I” on stage, the Theater Works production is respectable.  It continues through October 16.  For tickets, call the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: C


5 Responses to ““The King and I” – Theater Works”

  1. Lydia Oreta said:

    Oct 05, 11 at 00:13

    Congratulations to Theater Works for this wonderful production The King And I. I saw it last Saturday and was really impressed by the actors. I actually thought Kristi McEwan did an amazing job as Mrs. Anna. Her voice was amazing. And Jay Espano who had some big shoes to fill in as we all are so aware of Yul Brynner’s iconic role. But he made the role his own. I also like the actors coming out to personally thank the audience. It made it extra especial having been able to see them up close.

  2. Stephanie said:

    Oct 13, 11 at 03:39

    They’re having a blast doing the show! My daughters are in it. I think the show is amazing! Oh and yes the children are WONDERFUL!

  3. Dr. C Cumbee said:

    Oct 13, 11 at 11:55

    Dear Sir,
    I had the good fortune to see Theater Works’ production of The King & I twice. I must set the record straight. I was educated at The Toronto Conservatory of Music and have been a musician for over 50 years. Your statements about Kristi MacEwan were not only grossly untrue but slanderous. The production has many issues but Mrs. MacEwan’s performance is not one of them. Her singing is flawless. It is never “off key”, as you say. I must doubt that you know the meaning of this phrase or you would not use it to describe her. She is always on pitch and in tune with the orchestra. As to her British accent, I lived in London, and the accent is spot on. Her acting is full of fire, joy, passion and soul. The connection she shares onstage with Mr. Espano is palpable. During the closing scenes I and other audience members were moved to tears by the soulfilled acting. You must not have seen the same production to be unmoved. I challenge to see The King & I again the final weekend with the musical score in hand and circle the areas where you falsely accuse Mrs. MacEwan of being off key. I find it difficult to believe that you have been well trained to accurately judge such a performance with the slanderous statements you made about Mrs. MacEwan. Her performance is easily equal to that of the king. I believe you have failed the public by your extremely inaccurate account of the King & I.
    Dr. C Cumbee

  4. Chris Curcio said:

    Oct 13, 11 at 15:08

    Dr. Cumbee:

    Apparently, you did NOT attend the same performance of Theater Works “The King and I” as I did. Kristi MacEwan did, in fact, sing off key in the opening sections of several songs the night I attended. Perhaps the night you attended she actually sang on key. Yes, I know “off key” when I hear it. My companion heard the same mistakes from her that I did and I overheard other audience members making similar comments during the intermission and afte rthe performance. I guess YOU are the only person in the whole world who really knows “Off key” as several people felt the same way I did. I suggest you rent the DVD of the excellent movie version of “The Kign and I” to see a real actress, Deborah Kerr, play Anna with the necessary fire and conviction that MacEwan lacked completely. Listen carefully since you are from London to Ms. Kerr’s accent since she was English born and raised before she headed for Hollywood. Also, I have seen over 30 different stage productions of “The King and I” which is one of my personal favorite musicals. I saw my first stage production in 1961 when I was 11. I have seen many videos of the original production and would comment what many including several critics said at the time that Gertrude Lawrence, the original Anna, had a real hard time staying on pitch. Richard Rodgers, teh show’s composer, said in several books how bad Lawrence was. While I admit, I apparently did NOT see the specific performance of Theater Works “The King and I” that you did and we all know (or do you) that live performances vary tremendously especially in non-professional community theaters like Theater Works. It is insulting to me that you set yourself up as the only expert who can hear someone siging off key and state that I do not know when a performer is singing off key. Just who are you and why are you an expert? Have you seen as many profesiional and community productions of this great musical? Have you seen excellent Annas to awful Annas so that you really know what you are talking about. Your insulting comment is appalling to me. The fact that you can’t acknowledge that a performer you heard at one performance may have had a bad night at another time shows how little you really know about the performing arts. Aren’t you aware that opera singers can vary greatly from performance to performance just like a stage musical performer? I stand strongly behind my assessment of Kristi MacEwan. Quite frankly her amateurism ruined the production for me and perhaps I should have said that in my review instead of skirting around the issue. I stand behind my positive comments about the supporting cast and especially the children in Theater Works production as they were all spot on for a community theater staging. Please enlighten yourself adn see the superb movie version of “The King and I” to really know how this great musical should be played by the leads. Also, if any truly professional productions of this show ever come to Phoenix, I hope you will actually see it. It’s unfortunate but the last professional production to play town was the road version of the last Broadway revival. While the Broadway production was tryuly brilliant, the road tour and especially the two awful leads were a disgrace. People I had told to see this proiduction based on my Broadway experience with Lou Dimond Phillips and Donna Murphy were shocked and appalled and rightfully so at the road tour at ASU Gammage. I really think your lack of knowledge and understadning of “The King and I” negates your ridiculous comments but there it is. Facts, truths, expriences, and a true understadning of a great musical as opposed to opinions of someone who apparently has not seen the show performed properly!!!!

    Chris Curcio

  5. Chris Curcio said:

    May 08, 14 at 23:10

    Glad you like the website. I’m not thinking of adding any other writers but tell me where you live and what kinds of shows you wouyld cover if I added you to my site. Thanks