In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the PBS Great Performances telecast of Bartlett Sher’s 2015 Lincoln Center Theater revival of The King and I, which airs tonight and will subsequently be streamed. Here’s an excerpt.
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I’ve had mixed feelings about more than a few of Mr. Sher’s Broadway revivals, but this one, which starred Kelli O’Hara, was a knockout and a wow, the finest staging of the show I’ve seen, and it’s a most agreeable surprise to see how fully it translates to the small screen…..
The book is by turns funny and deeply affecting, the score masterly, and Jerome Robbins’s choreography, all of which was preserved in the wonderful 1956 film version, has lost none of its charm in the ensuing years. But the enduring excellence of that film has proved to be a stumbling block whenever the show is produced, for it also preserves the performance of Yul Brynner, who created the role of the King of Siam in 1951 and reprised his now-legendary star turn in the show’s first two Broadway revivals, as well in countless roadshow productions. As a result, any theater company that revives “The King and I” today must either cast a Brynner impersonator (so to speak) as the proud, willfully impulsive king or try to find some kind of way to get out from under the shadow of his well-remembered example.
Mr. Sher solved the problem by casting the charismatic Asian actor Ken Watanabe, who gave a performance that was both commanding and in every way his own. ….
As for Ms. O’Hara, she is fabulously good—and then some….
Alas, the stage production’s spectacular show-opening coup de théâtre, in which the boat that brings Anna to Siam “sails” beyond the lip of the thrust stage, looming over the first five rows of the audience, makes no impression at all on TV—it caused gasps when I saw the show in 2015—but everything else about this staging, including Robbins’s second-act “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, looks convincing….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
Kelli O’Hara and the King and I ensemble perform “Getting to Know You” at the 2015 Tony Awards ceremony: