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DHT captures the spirit of ‘King and I’

  • DIAMOND HEAD THEATRE
    In a prayer to Buddha, the King (Paolo Montalban) promises that he will give Anna (Tricia Marciel) a house of her own.
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“The King and I” has been done so many times since it first opened on Broadway 60 years ago that reviewing contemporary productions is essentially a matter of assessing how well the new show matches up to the benchmarks set by the original.

Measured in those terms, Diamond Head Theatre’s latest take on the timeless Rodgers & Hammerstein classic is a marvelous revival.

Gorgeous sets? Willie Sabel’s beautiful red-and-gold creations instantly establish the mood and setting: a regal, richly appointed, lovingly romanticized 19th-century Thailand.   

Music? Musical director Emmett G. Yoshi­oka and his musicians do a magnificent job with Rodgers’ beloved score. Mikel J. Humerickhouse (sound design) ensures the singers’ work is fully appreciated.

The king’s cute offspring? Director/choreographer Greg Zane has assembled a fine collection of talented and reliable young performers. They all hit their marks on opening night; Ariana Kashimoto added a show-stopping, hold-your-breath moment as the young fan dancer.

The “Small House” ballet? Kathryn Lee (Eliza) actually appears to be skating on the frozen river.

“THE KING AND I”

» Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through April 17
» Cost: $12-$42 (discounts available)
» Info: 733-0274, www.diamondheadtheatre.com

Strong supporting performances? Tony Young (The Kralahome) is appropriately shrewd and commanding. Grace Bell (Lady Thiang) makes “Something Wonderful” the searing emotional show-stopper it must be if the dynamics of the story are to fall into place. Meilan Akaka (Tuptim) and Jay Flores (Lun Tha) are well matched as the star-crossed lovers; Akaka’s big solo, “My Lord and Master,” introduces the tragic subplot, and the duets that follow lay bare the lovers’ torment.

The two stars of the show live up to expectations as well.

Paolo Montalban has the stature and bearing of an absolute monarch and makes the role his own — a strong, vibrant and likeable king. In Montalban’s performance we see a monarch who enjoys being the king of Siam despite all the challenges and threats and new ideas that he is confronted with.

Tricia Marciel (Anna) delivers on the bittersweet sentiment expected in “Hello, Young Lovers” and the requisite carefree charm in “Getting to Know You.” She also looks like she’s having a great time with Anna’s semicomic rant, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”

Montalban and Marciel do their most memorable work together in the climatic scene where the king and Anna dance Western style and appear to come within a second of a kiss before outside events intrude. Marciel’s body language in key moments suggests that Anna is confronting and overcoming her personal racial prejudices. Montalban’s performance strongly hints that the king is aware of English notions of racial superiority.

Zane and Montalban conform to the traditional “book” by presenting the king as a proud and stubborn autocrat who would let his kingdom be destroyed rather than admit he doesn’t know something — let alone ask a woman for advice. These aspects of the king’s character drive many of the show’s comic moments, and it would be bowdlerizing the show to remove them.    

DHT’s “The King and I” is a beautiful treatment of a timeless Broadway classic, and one that meets the standard benchmarks on all counts.

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