Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s The King and I is a joyful hit.
The prestigious cast consists of Broadway veterans Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana as the lead characters Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut of Saim. Kelly and Llana excel in their dynamic and challenging roles while the supporting cast offers an impressive performance. Their choreography and vocal abilities are unparalleled and keep the audience engaged and uplifted.
The 1951-era musical conveys a positive message of female empowerment, a rare narrative in the time of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Anna Leonowens, a Welsh schoolteacher, is hired to teach the favored wives of King Mongkut and their children, including the heir to the Saim throne. King Mongkut is attempting to educate the members of his royal family on proper English and knowledge of the world outside of Saim. This is done as an attempt to westernize the underdeveloped eastern country.
Upon Leonowens arrival, she is notified that King Mongkut has backed out of his promise to provide her and her young son with a house, insisting they live within the palace walls. Leonowens reluctantly obliges and begins her duties as governess to the royal children and teacher to their mothers. Her empathetic and kind demeanor gain her favor among all those in the palace, including King Mongkut.
King Mongkut is hesitant to admit his need for Leonowens’ help. His misogynistic view of the world hinders him from accepting her valuable insight into the modernization and education of Saim. With time, Leonowens learns to reframe her opinions to make him believe the ideas were his own. She stands up for an enslaved wife who was given to the king as a gift from Burma, changes Great Britain’s opinion of the king and influences the heir to the throne to change palace policies.
When Leonowens decides to leave Saim, she is met with sorrow from the king, his wives and their children. King Mongkut is left with a broken heart following the news. Leonowens must decide to either go to the king or immediately board the boat that is set to take her away.
The show is a must-see for musical theater fans. The eclassic storyline accurately displays women’s roles in every aspect of life as important and necessary.
In Act I, Leonowens says, “women are just as smart as men.” The messages conveyed throughout the show echo this powerful statement that was not recognized at the musical’s original debut and still fails to be acknowledged by some in today’s society.
The King and I is playing at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall through Feb. 4.