Review: The King and I at The London Palladium

The King and I is definitely one of the most iconic shows from the Golden Age of musicals. Written by the godfathers of musical theatre, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II; and brought to life on screen by the legendary Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, the luscious music and gorgeous costumes combine to create a visual and aural feast.

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Despite all this, I'd never actually seen it on stage until this week: thanks to a Twitter competition run by London Theatre Direct, I attended a performance at the beautiful London Palladium and thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the major downside to most old theatres being the lack of air conditioning! (I've actually just noticed that the main page on the production website boasts the venue has 'air cooling' - if this is so, it wasn't much in evidence on the night we attended!)

There was certainly much to enjoy: the sets were astonishing, detailed and evocative, the orchestra exceptional, and the award-winning costumes luscious and lust-worthy! Obviously Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe have received plaudits for their performances, and rightly so; O'Hara herself seems to be lifted directly from a classic movie musical, and Watanabe's presence onstage eclipsed anyone else who happened to be sharing the space with him.

I think we saw Naoko Mori at Lady Thiang, and hers was one of the stand-out performances; her voice contained such a level of richness that I wished her solo performance, 'Something Wonderful', was both longer and allowed her to express more of her range. I also adored Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim, and the 'Small House of Uncle Thomas' sequence was incredible.

However, the downsides: the script and characterisations are very much of its time, and while this isn't a major issue, I do wonder why this particular musical has been chosen for a revival.

The staging was complex, due to the intricacy of the set, but I did feel that there was far too much wandering about: especially in the lovers' sequences as Tuptim and Lun Tha ran about the stage like gazelles. Speaking of which, Dean John Wilkinson as Lun Tha definitely looked the part, but when singing alongside the virtuosity of Jeon he seemed a little out of his depth; as did Jon Chew as Prince Chulalongkorn, who, possibly in an attempt to emulate the power of Watanabe, simply seemed to be overacting.

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Despite that, it's a classic musical, and the realist in me loves the melancholy ending. So too did the audience on the night we attended, who stood and applauded from the moment the bows began.

The King And I is on at the London Palladium until 29th September.


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