Review: The King and I at Wales Millennium Centre

*Invited - Press night*

My first musical of 2020 brought me back to one of my favourite places in Cardiff, The Wales Millennium Centre, to watch The King and I. I know the film adaptation of the classic musical has been popular for years, but I've never actually seen it. I was interested to learn that the show is based on the real memoirs of Anna Leowens, who became the teacher to a Siamese King's children in 1852. It was during a period where great threats of colonisation inspired the King to hire a Western schoolteacher to help modernise his country and teach his wives and their children.

Bartlett Sher's revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein production felt very traditional from the offset, as opening music played for a little while before the curtain went up. As the show went on, I didn't respond that well to the slower pacing and how the story was told. I think the more shows I go to, the more I learn about what I like most. I do feel the more contemporary musicals keep me entertained throughout, whereas some of the older ones can have gripping moments but then drag and my attention wanes.

Performances, though, were fantastic. Jose Llana as the King of Siam brought a fitting sense of humour to the role. He perfectly conveyed this real sense of silliness and mischievousness which balanced out the King's fiercer traits. There was good chemistry with Anna as well, played by Maria Coyne in last Thursday's performance. She was simply delightful; a fantastic actress with a perfectly smooth, clear voice which was well suited to the score. Anna is warm, empathetic, strong-minded and intelligent - exactly the sort of person the King needed to meet to help him become a better person and leader. I loved her feminist attitude and how outspoken she was about equality for women.

The songs were pleasant enough, but other than the familiar "Getting to Know You", I didn't really care for them - they just weren't to my taste. Jessica Gomes-Ng gave the most memorable vocal performances with her unique voice as the tragic, inspiring character of Tuptim, a slave girl sent from Burma as a gift to the King, who is secretly in love with another man. Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang was my favourite to watch, I found her hugely charismatic, regal and elegant, one of those where you just keep looking at them and look forward to seeing them come on stage. The Royal children were also very sweet. So although the show wasn't my cup of tea on the whole, all of these cast members gave performances that did keep my eyes glued to them at certain points.

The set design was extremely opulent and detailed, as was the costume design. I did expect more dancing and more of a lively vibe to it all, I think that would have been amazing with such lavish surroundings - I suppose some of the promotional images lead me to assume wrongly about that. The part with the most dancing was "The Small House of Uncle Thomas", a show within a show which  was not a part of the musical I enjoyed, sadly. The choreography was well done and the costumes were outstanding, but it was incredibly bizarre and not in a good way, I just found it grating on my ears. Again, that's just my opinion. I know it's a hugely well-regarded production and I can appreciate that. I must remind you all that I have not studied musical theatre and I merely offer my thoughts as an honest local blogger who just really loves doing to shows. A large portion of any audience will be be made up of people like myself, so I think my opinion is just as valid as anyone's, right?

So ultimately, it was a show full of immense talent, but one that I did find quite tedious to get through and I didn't love it. If you're familiar with the film, I've been told that the musical is super close to it, so you'll probably get on a lot better with the show. than I did. People who responded to my Instagram story told me they loved it and there are so many stellar reviews for it, I'm clearly in the minority. So please do go and see it if you like a more classical musical and don't be put off by me! 

The King and I is showing at the Wales Millennium Centre from the 8th – 18th January 2020 and you can purhase tickets here:


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