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Bright Kids present sumptuous ‘King’ revival at Paliku

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Kathleen Stuart, a Castle High School graduate, stars as widowed British school teacher Anna Leonowens opposite Kaimuki High School graduate Michael Ng as the King of Siam in Paliku Theatre’s revival of “The King & I” at Windward Community College.

Getting to know “The King & I,” now in a sumptuous revival at Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College, is getting to explore its complex and exotic elements.

Think ritual, tradition and belligerence, from the point of the King of Siam; from the British single mom hired to educate the royal brood, it’s about racism, feminism and tyranny. The mix includes a doomed love story and colonial political tensions.

This Rodgers and Hammerstein evergreen also boasts a subliminal element not commonly demonstrated elsewhere: unspoken spirituality.

It is produced by the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation, formed to continue the legacy of the late director Ron Bright (who died in 2015 at age 81), and it’s clearly an homage.

This is the perfect vehicle for Bright Kids. It features a host of children, young and old, and moms and dads in the cast; veterans comprise some of backstage roles.

It thrives on the memories of Bright helming shows with characters and tunes that have nourished many lives. In fact, his notes from a 1998 production inspired and motivated the cast.

It revels in exotic costume finery and is unabashedly about compassion, love, hope and dreams — some realized, one not — and this “King” is precisely the kind of musicals Bright adored.

The plot: a widowed British school teacher Anna Leonowens (Kathleen Stuart, a Castle High School grad, reprising her 1998 lead role) is hired to teach the offspring of the King of Siam (Michael Ng, a Kaimuki High School teacher) in what is initially a racist and chauvinistic relationship (he reneges on his promise to provide her a house, insisting she instead live in his palace).

Stuart brings warmth and graciousness in recreating Anna as an adult. There’s authentic maturity and sensitivity plus a luminous voice that makes all her solos, from “Hello, Young Lovers” to “Getting to Know You,” soothing and affecting. Ng’s King is expectedly rigid, delivered as a take-charge, talk-sing authoritarian with little tolerance.

They taunt and challenge each other, and the puzzlement ultimately is resolved in Act 2 when the King and Anna prance and spin in the iconic “Shall We Dance” number.

That’s the take-home moment, with her hoop skirt awhirl.

The cast is blessed with standouts. Lady Thiang (Vanessa Benevente), the No. 1 wife, recognizes the tension between her husband and the newbie overwhelmed by culture shock, and her loyalty is solid. She delivers “Something Wonderful” with riveting conviction.

As young lovers in a forbidden situation, Tuptim (Allison Chu, 2016 Miss Hawaii), and Lun Tha (George Benevente) generate romantic and emotional sparks in their two duets, “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.”

Of course, the processional “March of the Siamese Children” is utterly delightful, with radiance and joy expressed in the faces of the 16 Royal Children in the ritualistic parade.

Two youths demonstrate pride and earnest dedication to their roles and their craft: Prince Chulalongkorn (Michael Hicks), the heir to the throne, and Louis Leonowens (Kainoa Kelly), Anna’s son. They share moments of friction and friendship.

Kudos, too, for the ensemble work on the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, staged with all the right moves and prop effects.

Director Mary Chesnut Hicks, usually a vocal director, helms her diverse cast with precision and stands to be the heir apparent for the Bright Kids group. The dependable techies include Bright regulars like Clarke Bright, musical conductor, Lloyd S. Riford III, lighting designer, and Miguel Cadoy III, vocal director.

Other specialists breathe new life in the ranks: Anna Foster’s costumes are radiant and exotic, her scrim projection designs atmospheric; DeAnne Kennedy’s palace set is fitting, spartan yet versatile; Andrew Sakaguchi’s choreography (with a nod to Jerome Robbins), earns him Bright Kid bragging rights; R. Andrew Doan’s technical direction is spot-on, rivaled by his onstage appearance as Captain Orton; and Daniel Yoo’s sound engineering is largely perfect, till the crackling sounds heard in the waning moments during the King’s final words.


Presented by the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation

>> Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College

>> When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 1

>> Cost: $19-$39

>> Info: 235-4253, imabrightkid.org/tickets

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