`The King and I' is a majestic production


September 08, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,Special to The Sun

The King and I, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical tale of a 19th-century English widow who travels to Siam with her young son to teach the ruler's children, receives royal treatment by 2nd Star Productions.

The 1951 Broadway masterwork endures because of its exotic setting, great score conveying the East-meets-West theme, and comedy and warmth in the culture clash between the Victorian-era schoolmistress and the leader who strives to improve his kingdom.

2nd Star's version offers the excitement of a first-rate musical production, along with something seldom heard on today's Broadway: a 22-member orchestra in the pit.

Director Jane B. Wingard, who serves as producer and set designer, brings a warm understanding to this work. The professional scene designer has created spectacular sets here.

Anne Arundel Community College theater arts major and dancer/actress Hana Thornhill serves as choreographer. She created dances that are visual treats, most notably the Uncle Tom's Cabin ballet.

Musical director Donald K. Smith contributes to the caliber of this production, evoking audience excitement with the downbeat of the overture and later the gamut of emotions in the orchestra's rendering of this fabled score.

Contributing to the visual artistry of this production are Mary Dobson's costumes that are exotic and authentic. The same is true of the sensitive lighting created by Garrett R. Hyde.

Most essential to the success of 2nd Star's production are the fine performances by the cast. As Anna, Katzi Carver is in every sense a leading lady who conveys her character's courage, hope and fear. Her voice brings new life to the familiar songs.

Wendell Holland brings likability and the needed primitive charisma and arrogance to his portrayal of the King of Siam. But having seen Yul Brynner perform as the King at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House, I find it difficult not to measure others against him.

When I saw the show Saturday, Alicia Osborn substituted for Branda Lock in the role of Tuptim, managing to portray her character's plight and delivering many lines of dialogue well.

As her lover Lun Tha, Neil Puzon is vocally outstanding, bringing the right mix of passion and longing to "We Kiss in the Shadow."

Among outstanding support players are Al Chopey as the king's minister, the Kralahome, Tania Rosa Bindhoff as Lady Thiang, Keith Norris as Sir Edward Ramsey and young Zachary Fadler as Anna's son Louis.

The supporting cast of royal wives, young princes and princesses contributes to the overall excellence of this production.

The King and I continues at the Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park on weekends through Sept. 23. For reservations or to purchase season subscriptions, call 410-757-5700.

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