Tuesday, August 15, 2006

second-weekend (partial) review of *The King and I*

at Shuler Auditorium, North Idaho College, through Aug. 19

In *The King and I,* two headstrong creatures from very different cultures collide. The face-off between English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut of Siam, full of stubbornness and mutual incomprehension, represents how people begin to fall in love — by stifling their vanity and developing compassion for the other person’s point of view.
Which is why a golden-age musical set halfway around the world and encumbered by all those Victorian hoop skirts is still worth watching. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic continues at Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre through Saturday, Aug. 19; a matinee has been added that day at 2 pm.
As the central couple, Kelly Eviston Quinnett and Ben Gonio move gracefully and sing well; even better, they climb inside their characters and enact their puzzlements persuasively. Quinnett conveys Anna’s intelligence, humor and self-confidence; Gonio demonstrates how a monarch’s bossiness can be grounded in insecurity.
Oscar Hammerstein’s book strains to include a separated-lovers subplot and strives too hard for tragedy at the end — and Roger Welch’s direction in the “Getting To Know You” scene is too cutesy — but the overall effect of this production, nevertheless, is of romantic love improbably surviving.

For “Hello, Young Lovers,” Quinnett takes it slow at first, then really sells the mixed emotions of sadness over her husband’s death and gratitude for at least having found him. Welch has his Anna deliver much of the song to Tuptim (Grace Eunhye Lee), who certainly qualifies as an unrequited young lover herself. (She was given as a present to the king, but her heart is with another man.) Both Tuptim and Mrs. Leonowens are women and therefore unknown quantities to King Mongkut; Welch’s staging emphasizes how mystifying obstacles to love can be. Because she plays both the lyrics’ sadness and hope, Quinnett enacts Anna’s emotional plight, creating the most romantic sequence in this version of Hammerstein’s musical romance.


See Thursday's *Inlander* for an extended version of this review: music, set, costumes, the tragic ending, and Ben Gonio's performance as King Mongkut.


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