Something Wonderful: Experiencing The King and I on BroadwayHD
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Last week, it was announced that the 2018 live filming of The King and I would be released to stream free on BroadwayHD, a streaming platform providing professionally filmed full-length plays and musicals for worldwide viewing to its subscribers. The musical was available for 48hours of free viewing, with those involved encouraging those watching at home to make a donation to The Actor’s Fund, an organization which is supporting out of work performers during these trying times.
This performance was filmed live at the London Palladium in 2018 and was later released in theatres as a cinematic event. The production is a transfer of Lincoln Center Theater’s critically acclaimed 2015 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Bartlett Sher helmed the transfer as the director and Kelli O’Hara and Ruthie Ann Miles reprised their Tony Award-winning roles, with Tony Nominee Ken Wantanabe also returning to the role of the King.
Set in Siam in the 1860s, The King and I tells the story of British school teacher, Anna Leonowens, who has come to teach the royal children and her tumultuous and unlikely friendship with the King.
Kelli O’Hara’s Tony Award-winning performance as Anna Leonowens is not to be missed, and luckily her magic was captured forever when she reprised her role for the London production. O’Hara effortlessly soars through the classic score and within the first few moments of the show makes it very clear why she is known as Broadway royalty. . A born storyteller, she radiates warmth and charisma, drawing the audience in as she places the story in their hands. It’s worth mentioning that not only is O’Hara giving a sublime performance, but she is doing it all in thirty-to-forty pounds of dress.
Alongside O’Hara, Ruthie Anne Miles is also reprising her Tony Award-winning performance. She is exquisite as Lady Thiang, commanding the stage with elegance. Lady Thiang is one of the many wonderful supporting characters The King and I has to offer and she brings gravitas to every moment of her performance. Miles is a master of her craft. Her performance of ‘Something Wonderful’ is breathtaking and elevates storytelling through song to a whole new level.
The company is full of talent, from the exuberant Ken Wantanabe as the King of Siam, to the innocent and expressive Na Young Jeon as Tuptim. A special acknowledgement goes to the children’s chorus. The young performers playing the royal children were vibrant and energetic, with the most infectious smiles.
It’s difficult to choose a favourite moment in such an impeccable production, but the reprise of ‘A Puzzlement’ sung by Louis (Billy Marlow), the son of Mrs. Anna, and Prince Chulalongkor (Jon Chew) is brilliant as the two young people realize that the adults may not have all the answers.
Despite not being inside the theatre, the sets of The King and I are lush and beautifully presented. The cinematography allows for close-ups which aren’t always possible in theatre, but still takes every opportunity to showcase the sprawling set and breathtaking projections.
Another choice made in this glorious production which also contributes to the feeling of being inside a theatre, was including the sweeping overture and gorgeous entr’acte in full. Rodgers and Hammerstein are known for their incredible work, and showcasing the orchestra in this way was a brilliant choice.
Also well-featured are the talented dancers in the company, and are presented early on throughout transitions and scene-changes. This musical has a large company, and the ensemble of singers and dancers are amazing to watch. These performers bring energy and precision to every scene and the ballet ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ is easily one of the highlights of the show.
The legendary dance scene between Anna and the King, ‘Shall We Dance’’ is pure theatre magic, and it is absolutely gorgeous to witness. Wantanabe and O’Hara are perfectly in-sync, navigating the stage with ease, despite dancing around moving pillars and managing forty pounds of dress. The chemistry between Wantanabe and O’Hara blossoms in this scene, every expression delicately showing the sudden awareness of the emotions between their characters.
Viewing this beautiful show in movie theatres was thrilling, and revisiting it from the comfort of my own home was a special treat. O’Hara and Miles are riveting performers, and the cinematography is dazzling as it highlights sets, costumes, and projections. While the 48hour period is up, The King and I is still available for viewing on BroadwayHD for those who have a subscription.
Like any Rodgers and Hammerstein show, The King and I has its place among the classics however this brilliant production proves that it is truly timeless.