Theatre

Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see. From its colorful set to its superb cast including Jose Llana who has mastered the role of the Siamese King, this particular creation if The King and I is simply wondrous.


The scrumptiously definitive Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spirited, brainy educator, Anna Leonowens, who the King of Siam brings in from England to teach his seventy-seven children and many wives both the English language along with Western culture. She is strong-willed, which throws off the stubborn and egotistical king, the two struggling, at times, to see eye to eye, especially when Anna states that women are every bit as important than men.


Laura Michelle Kelly has a large Broadway resume and shines as the show’s star in Anna offering genuineness to the role while providing a strong singing voice for the part. Kelly suffuses the character with wit, strength, empathy and a suffragette fervor which climaxes in the comical and still contemporary number, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”


“All to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!”


Jose Llana is about as good as it gets as the King of Siam (sorry, Yul Brynner). Llana is no stranger to the role having starred in two Tony-Award winning in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of The King and I. As I suggested previously, he is made for the role. Delightful, attractive and able to charm the house one moment while displaying great frustration the next, Llana delivers a layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable distortion. Llana’s comic timing, humorous expressions and line delivery are spot on. He is convincing so that it makes perfect sense that his character is both gaining respect for the sophisticated and mature teacher while also being confused by his rising sense of incomprehension at her grasp of political awareness that progresses the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.


The chemistry between Llana and Kelly is explosive.


There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Llana and Kelly manage to make it a funny exchange between two people who are each unaware they are gaining a true admiration for each other.


Other stories unfold throughout the production, that of a young couple whose love is forbidden as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), who is in love with Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), her secret lover. At the same time, we see a young king in the making who is clearly influenced by Anna’s Western ways.


Marcus Shane steps in as Prince Chulalongkorn, the young boy who is next in line to be king, and does a solid job conveying his character’s gradually absorption of Anna’s wisdom and life lessons most notably at the show’s end when he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden. The young prince has clearly learned a lesson in humanity from his now adored teacher and friend, Anna.


Joan Almedilla is fantastic as Lady Thiang. Her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” is nothing less than breathtaking. Like the other cast members in main roles, Almedilla’s voice is yet another a true treat for the ears. It’s easy to get spoiled when seeing a well-performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the words for every song are so unforgettable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” is also gorgeously sung by Nichols, as the love stricken Tuptim.

“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
And Panmeechao, Tuptim’s lover, performs the classic “I Have Dreamed” impeccably.
“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper
When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

The costumes in this piece are true to the period while the dance numbers pleasingly choreographed and a radiant set worthy of its royalty is the finishing touch.
I highly recommend this dreamy, moving and humorous evening of unadulterated theatrical joy.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is being performed at the Oriental Theatre through July 2nd For more show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Chicago is alive with the sound of music, thanks to the return of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic musical now playing at Cadillac Palace that comes with a delightfully vibrant cast and an orchestra that is able to capture the uttermost essence of the original score. Directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, The Sound of Music is in town for just a limited engagement so if you’d like to take in one of the most enduring musicals of all time, you had better act quickly.

Most know the story that takes place in World War II Austria where a “rebellious” nun-to-be, Maria, is sent by the Abbey to the home of the widowed Captain von Trapp, a wealthy and successful Naval officer, to act as the governess for his seven children. She enters a strict household where there is no longer a place for music but rather is closer to the environment found on one of the Captain’s sea vessels. This is a tightly run ship, where orders are barked and children answer to whistle tones. No one dares oppose the way the Captain runs his household, that is, of course, until Maria enters the picture. As the story progresses, Maria kind-heartedness slowly breaks through to the Captain and a whirlwind of love story takes place as the two realize they have eyes for each other.    

With the Third Reich threatening to take over Austria and enlist the Captain’s services, the story takes another turn when the head of the Von Trapp household refuses to support the Nazi ideal. The Sound of Music is a classic love story adventure that has won the hearts of millions not just by its compelling story but by its sensational soundtrack. 

Usually, it is the role of Maria that runs away with the story and is relished and admired so much by its audience. However, in this case, Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp is so dynamic, both vocally and in his acting performance, that so say he stole the show would be a heavy understatement. Displaying a vocal range from a seasoned baritone to a gifted soprano, while so well capturing the essence of a hardened man softened then transfixed by the love, forgiveness and admiration of a young woman, Davis makes one wonder if it is possible to play the role of Captain von Trapp any better. 

But you do need a strong Maria or the play cannot work - period. Kerstin Anderson as Maria is strong indeed. Probably taking the role a bit on the nerdy side in a bit of a twist, Anderson still has the warmth and charm, and is frankly…likeable. Able to harness the much-needed free-spirited persona into her character with seemingly natural ease, she certainly flows gracefully in her role, and she, like Davis, can also belt. 

The supporting roles are also well cast from the Melody Betts as the Mother Abbess to Merwin Foard as the wheeling and dealing Max Detweiler. Talented too are the child actors who make up The Family von Trapp, particularly Paige Sylvester who plays Liesl and also Dan Tracy as Rolf Gruber, her love interest. Sylvester and Tracy especially light up the stage during their inspiring number “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. 

With such amazing songs as “Do-Re-Mi”, “Climb Every Mountain”, “The Sound of Music” and “Edelweiss”, we are literally treated to one great after another. The Sound of Music is without question both vocally and visually entertaining. The set beautifully depicts the von Trapp mansion, helping to bring this wonderful story to life.

To put it simply, you won’t want to miss this one. 

The Sound of Music is being performed at Cadillac Palace through just June 19th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 13 April 2015 00:00

"Carousel" Is A Ride to Remember

Roger and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is always a treat, and that holds true especially with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production at the Civic Opera House. A true spectacle of colorful sets, scenic backdrops and larger than life dancing choreography envelope brilliant vocal performances in the fun classic. Of course, the carousel itself is eye candy in itself.

Set in 1873 Maine, the story begins when two young females, Carrie and Julie, visit the carousel where they meet barker, Billy Bigelow. As a “barker”, Billy’s job is to convince crowd members to take a ride on the carousel and does so by shouting out catchy sell phrases and flirting with nearby girls. After Billy puts his arm around Julie for the duration of a ride, Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carousel ride, lets him go and tells him never to return. Out of work, Billy runs into Julie where a romance blooms and a relationship develops. As sweet and simple as Julie is, Billy’s exterior is tough and carefree. It’s not long after the two are married that Julie surprises Billy with the news that she is pregnant. Billy, already struggling with raising money for he and his wife, is approached by his ex-con, ne'er-do-well whaler friend, Jigger, who presents the idea of robbing Julie’s former boss- and killing him. Billy refuses but has to rethink the idea as he becomes more and more desperate.

There is an overabundance of musical talent in this fifty-plus member cast that provides one beautiful performance after another. In supporting roles, Jenn Gamatese is simply terrific as “Carrie Pepperidge” as is Matthew Hydzik as her love interest “Enoch Snow”. The two are particularly enjoyable when performing together in the numbers “Mr. Snow” and “When the Children Are Asleep”. Charlotte D’Amboise is sensational as “Mrs. Mullin” and gets to really show off her dancing chops in the show’s later afterlife scene – a surreal display put together just dazzlingly by the production team. Also contributing to the show’s beauty and elegance is Denyce Graves whose stunning vocals can be appreciated in “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”. Laura Osnes plays “Julie Jordan” and delivers several breathtaking singing performances, most notably in her solo number “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.

Taking the lead is Steven Pasquale as our conflicted, good hearted but troubled “Billy Bigelow”. Pasquale’s performance is just magnificent. From the show’s early duet that has Billy and Julie singing “If I Loved You” to each other, it was apparent this would be one special production. Pasquale leads this gifted cast with his amazing vocal prowess, heartfelt passion and just the right amount of bravado. Pasquale melts the audience with his finessed vocals, “The Highest Judge of All” being the perfect example.

Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and conducted by David Chase, Carousel is a classic that should be seen by everyone young, old and in between.

Carousel is being performed at the Civic Opera House through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.lyricopera.org/carousel or call 312-827-5600. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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