With few props but with much ingenuity, `The King and I' gets stellar presentation

Arundel Live

April 11, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Pasadena Theatre Company gives Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical The King and I the royal treatment.

With its incomparable score and an irresistible East-meets-West theme crystallized in the battle between its two main characters, The King and I is beyond mere classic status. The king of Siam strives to do what is right according to his beliefs and new ones acquired from English teacher Anna, hired to teach his children.

The king fights to maintain royal supremacy over this courageous, but often prudish schoolteacher, who puzzles him. She is attracted to the king, even though she describes him as a "barbarian" with many wives.

Pasadena Theatre Company's production creates magic with few props and lots of ingenuity. Anna and her son Louis appear aboard a schooner arriving in Siam. The scene is created only by the ship's horn sounding as Captain Orlon (Frank Riley) stands forward stage left with Anna and her son waiting beside their trunks.

Other scenes are constructed with exquisitely painted backdrops that quickly move into place. Lending opulence to the production are hundreds of exotic costumes designed by Judy Vollmar and created by a staff of nine. Anna's demure Victorian dresses, the king's exotic garb and the jewel-toned costumes of the 20 royal children combine to create a tapestry of colors that enhances each scene.

Led by music director Eileen Eaton, the superb 18-piece orchestra creates something wonderful even before the curtain opens, contributing its magic from the first notes of the overture until the final reprise.

Director Chuck Richards could hardly have found a better Anna than Peggy Dorsey, an accomplished actress who knows how to sing. In a lovely, clear voice, Dorsey delivers favorites such as "Getting to Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Hello, Young Lovers" with heartfelt warmth.

In an impressive, unwavering English accent, Dorsey conveys Anna's determination to enlighten her pupils and the royal wives, and her barely suppressed attraction to the king.

And what a king Richards is, conveying the ruler's determination to bring his kingdom into the modern era while retaining his supreme power. Richards' king conceals his innate kindness so that he can abide by the laws of his kingdom, defends his polygamy and playfully taunts Anna, doing it all with joy. Richards has a pleasant singing voice that does justice to the score.

That Richards can create his own portrait of the king is a testament to his acting skills. Any actor playing this role has to be conscious of the long shadow cast by Yul Brynner, the first king, who created the role in 1951 and ended his career with the same role more than 30 years later after 4,600 performances.

Brynner remains unforgettable to those of us who saw him in 1985 at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, where he gave an electric performance despite being terminally ill with lung cancer.

The production features Tony Anzalone in a finely nuanced portrayal of the king's kralahome (prime minister), revealing the conflicting goals besetting his character, the king and his kingdom.

As star-crossed lovers, Jason Kimmell's Lun Tha and Theresa Riffle's Tuptim provide the bittersweet drama required. Given some of the score's most memorable songs, both deliver moving renditions of "We Kiss in the Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." Riffle is impressive in her solo, "My Lord and Master."

Every member of the large cast of young people deserves praise for meticulous execution of Kimmell's often demanding choreography. Outstanding performances were given by Jesse Carrey-Beaver as Louis, Jonathon Grubbkruger as Prince Chululongkorn and actor-dancers Christine Calhoon and Kelly Romanuski, among others.

Weekend performances of The King and I continue through April 21 at Chesapeake Arts Center's main theater in Brooklyn Park. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays.

Information and tickets: 410-636-6597.

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