Fresh ‘King and I’ true to its noble heart
BEVERLY - First things first: Fans of ’80s TV hunk Lorenzo Lamas (“Falcon Crest’’) can rest easy. The star of the North Shore Music Theatre’s current production of “The King and I’’ still looks buff, even with his famous locks cropped close for the role of the King of Siam. Better still, onstage Lamas is more than a pretty face, with a strong stage presence and a decent singing voice, and he delivers his King with just the right balance of arrogance and charm.
Lamas has to work at the top of his game because he’s playing opposite Kate Fisher, an actress with a breathtaking voice and an easy confidence, despite having to prance around in a giant hoop skirt. Fisher is Anna, the determined English widow employed by the king in the 1860s to teach his children about the world beyond their isolated kingdom. Anna is a complicated character: a mother, a teacher, and a woman still tempted by the possibilities of romance, and although it can’t be easy to find a fresh way to sing “Whistle a Happy Tune’’ and “Getting to Know You,’’ Fisher makes them believable.
One of the elements of “The King and I’’ that keeps it from becoming a museum piece is composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein’s appreciation of the issues of feminism, totalitarianism, and tolerance that were a part of “Anna and the King of Siam,’’ Margaret Landon’s book on which the musical is based. The fact that Rodgers and Hammerstein are able to build both character and story through such songs as “Hello, Young Lovers, “We Kiss in a Shadow,’’ and “Something Wonderful’’ is simply extraordinary. Because they are successful at it, the plight of a pair of doomed lovers is as poignant as the story of the teacher and the king. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the young lovers are portrayed by Manna Nichols and Joshua Dela Cruz, who not only have glorious voices, but make us hope for their love even though we know it’s impossible.
Director Richard Stafford builds his production with a sense of flow between the individual scenes, solos, and production numbers, always making the musical feel like an ensemble piece rather than a vehicle for a star. He also manages to choreograph the “March of the Siamese Children’’ efficiently, and integrates the children into the action without reducing them to props. Stafford does struggle a bit with North Shore’s arena staging, and Lamas in particular seems forced to pace in circles, stopping to plant himself on set pieces strategically located at different areas of the stage. Stafford is much more successful with his choreography, which always feels like it emerges organically from the center of the stage and then spreads outward.
With a first-rate company and a direct, unadorned production, the North Shore’s “The King and I’’ finds both the musical heart and the compelling moral compass in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical.
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.