When a famous TV actor decides to change direction and perform in a musical, it’s easy to assume that they will be average at best. Stars are often selected for their ability to draw in the crowds rather than having any real talent in the world of musical theatre.
Helen George, who is so well known for playing Nurse Trixie Franklin in BBC’s “Call the Midwife”, is the exception. It’s a complete surprise to discover that she trained at the Royal Academy of Music and she delivers some of the show’s favourites such as “Getting to know you” and “Shall we dance?” with complete assurance and confidence.
Darren Lee, a seasoned Broadway performer, is delightful as the King of Siam: comic and touching in equal measure, as he develops a close relationship with George’s character (Mrs Anna) who has come to Siam as a school teacher to his many children.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s much loved “The King and I” is performed by a talented cast, but the show seems somewhat slow to get started. The first scenes are rather drawn out and it takes a while for the audience to develop any real relationship with the main characters.
Having said that, there are some stand out performances in the first half, notably from Cezarah Bonner who plays Lady Thiang, the king’s head wife and her rendition of “Something Wonderful” which is exquisite.
The second half has far more pace as well as humour as the King attempts to impress an English delegation with his education and knowledge of western culture, including ordering his many wives to wear crinolines and shoes for the first time. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are sumptuous, depicting both Victorian elegance and traditional Siamese clothing as well as the elaborate and ethereal designs used in the ballet sequence of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.
SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE ENDING!
By the end of the show, the audience is completely entranced and as the King nears his death, the bond between him and Mrs Anna becomes palpable. The curtain comes down leaving those in the auditorium moved and grateful for a faithful retelling of such a classic story.
The Lincoln Center Theatre production of The King and I is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 1st April.
review courtesy of B Coulter