In Review > International

The King and I

PARIS
Théâtre du Châtelet
6/13/14

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Lee Blakeley's staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, featuring Lisa Milne as Lady Thiang and Susan Graham as Anna
© Marie-Noëlle Robert — Théâtre du Châtelet

The Châtelet continues to bring Broadway to Paris. Judging by the triumphant reception of the premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I on June 13, Parisians are enjoying the musical journey. After his successful Sondheim productions here, the staging was entrusted to Lee Blakeley with James Holmes conducting the Orchestre Pasdeloup, with a cast headed by the Anna of Susan Graham and the King of Lambert Wilson.

Blakeley did not attempt any superfluous interpretative details, but provided a classic reading of the hit show, which looked terrific thanks in part to the outstanding costumes of Sue Blane with oriental glitz opposite extravagant British Victoriana. Graham earned applause for her initial appearance in a spectacular black crinoline. Opera singers in musicals can be disappointing, with sophisticated vocal techniques getting in the way of direct expression. No such caveats applied to Graham whose performance was miraculously judged — a thread of golden sound bouncing off a crystal clear delivery of the text. The role was written for Gertrude Lawrence, whose vocal possibilities were, unlike Miss Graham's, severely limited. Not only was the mezzo stylish in the vocal numbers, but her cut glass English accent and stiff backed determination as the straight laced governess took no prisoners opposite the King of Lambert Wilson with whom she danced Peggy Hickey's sweeping choreography to the manner born. It is difficult to forget Yul Brynner as the King of Siam, but Wilson has a rare performing energy and threw himself into the role with such unbridled sincerity that it was easy to overlook a few uneasy vocal moments and occasional stiffness in the dialogue — the accent seemed to be a work in progress. Lambert and the producer brought to the musical added humanity; the King's damaged self esteem at being described as a "barbarian," underlining the anti-slavery and feminist message of Hammerstein's book.

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Susan Graham and Lambert Wilson (The King)
© Marie-Noëlle Robert — Théâtre du Châtelet

The Orchestre Pasdeloup let their musical hair down to great effect under Holmes, who picked up cues with deft precision and kept this melodious score on a tight leash. This was particularly important in the first act of an hour and forty minutes. Even with titles this was a long stretch of English spoken dialogue for a French audience. After the well played story of uncle Thomas, which has some of the musical's most original music, it was down to a finale of heartbreaking sincerity, played to the hilt by Graham and Wilson. Excellent support came from Lisa Milne as the King's number one wife, Lady Thiang, with a mature understanding of the human dramas playing out around her and a soprano that glowed with sincerity in the unforgettable number "Something wonderful." The love struck young couple of Tuptin and Lun Tha, whose romance ends tragically for Lun Tha, were charismatically taken by the featherlight soprano of Je Ni Kim and the appealing matinee-idol baritone of Damian Thantrey. A mention must also be made for the children led by Anna's son Louis, James Clack, and the Prince Chulalongkorn, Noam Guetta, whose eager eyed charm and touching cross cultural friendship could melt the most cynical of hearts. spacer

STEPHEN MUDGE

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2