Ben was nervous as we took our seats in the theatre. “I hope you like this,” he said. Several times.
It was partly my fault. When we went to see White Christmas a few months back, I mentioned that this wasn’t the sort of show I would normally see. White Christmas is a cosy sentimental, feel-good show – an old-fashioned good time which displays its 1950s origins clearly. I like my musicals contemporary, and ideally full of swearing and gay references. The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, that sort of thing. Less wholesome, more holes.
I did go on to say that I had very much enjoyed White Christmas and was glad we had gone to see it. Nevertheless, my boyfriend was anxious about bringing me to see The King and I. A new production — with her off Call the Midwife in the lead role — but an old show, originally performed on Broadway in 1951.
It’s also Ben’s favourite musical. No pressure then.
Do I need to rehash the story? A British schoolteacher, Anna, arrives in Siam with her son. She has been invited by the King to teach his many children, in an effort to “modernise” Siam. There is much culture clash between prim and proper Anna and the King, who openly enjoys the pleasure of many concubines. One of “his” women, Tuptim, is secretly in love with Lun Tha, a visiting Burmese envoy, who conduct a romance in secret, risking the wrath of the king if he finds out.
Anyway, Ben didn’t need to worry. From the moment the cast launched into “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, I knew I was going to enjoy it. All the classic songs are present and correct, including “Getting to Know You” and my personal favourite: “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” with the brilliant rhyme: “I do not like polygamy / Or even moderate bigamy / I realize / that in your eyes / That clearly makes a prig o’ me.” It’s toe-tapping fun!
The show ran nearly three hours with interval, but it didn’t feel long at all. Well, maybe during the 14-minute “ballet” section.
Helen George and Darren Gee are great as Anna and the King, respectively. Marienella Phillips gives a devastating performance as the tragic Tuptim. Special mention to Dean John-Wilson as Lun Tha, one of the supporting roles but one that stuck in my memory for… some reason.
It was a lovely show, and from now on, whenever I feel afraid, I will hold my (ahem) head erect.
If you want to see The King and I at the Liverpool Empire, then you’ll need a time machine, because its run in Liverpool has ended. But it is touring the UK until summer 2023. It comes highly recommended by me, even if it is from the 1950s. GOD IT’S SO OLD.