The King and I, starring Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara, is the fifth Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who becomes governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, as part of the king’s effort to modernize the country.
What do the critics think of this latest revival at Lincoln Center?
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: From the very first moments of Lincoln Center’s ravishing The King and I, it feels like a privilege just to be sitting in the audience. ,,,It is hard to imagine a better Anna than Kelli O’Hara ,,,O’Hara has found her match in Ken Watanabe…The King and I may not be universally viewed as among the best American musicals….Perhaps one reason is its implicit politics.
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Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: The results are satisfying to the highest possible degree: I doubt I’ll see a better production of “The King and I” in my lifetime. Mr. Watanabe gets out from Brynner’s long shadow by giving a performance that is gleefully playful, regally commanding and wholly his own. His thick Japanese accent is something of a trial in “A Puzzlement,” but that’s the only thing slightly wrong with him, and Kelli O’Hara leaves nothing whatsoever to be desired as Anna. Firm but not priggish, touching but never sentimental, she stands up to Mr. Watanabe like a redwood to a tornado and sings “Hello, Young Lovers” as well as anyone since…oh, Mabel Mercer.
As you probably already know, Mrs. Leonowens’s task in this 1951 musical is to educate a passel of royal Siamese pupils in the ways of the West. The job of Ms. O’Hara — and that of Mr. Sher and Ken Watanabe, the commanding Japanese film star who portrays the King of Siam — is to educate 21st-century audiences in the enduring and affecting power of a colonialist-minded musical that, by rights, should probably embarrass us in the age of political correctness.
It also involves a very, very large supporting cast, expertly marshaled by Mr. Sher and his choreographer, Christopher Gattelli (working from Jerome Robbins’s original watershed dances). If nothing else, this “King and I” is an exemplary lesson in crowd control, starting with the photorealist first act scene in which Anna and Louis make their way through the dockside throngs.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: One of the most elegantly beautiful and beautifully sung productions I’ve ever see…O’Hara is supremely comfortable in these R&H roles of independent-minded women in extraordinary predicaments…Watanabe… is strong, sexy and bewildered in a role forever owned by Yul Brynner… Watanabe is all but impossible to understand, his English so heavily accented I fear that the 35 customers who don’t already know the show will find this a barrier.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Two conspicuous differences exist between this shimmering, deeply rooted and delightful production and the original, identified almost-forever by Yul Brynner’s iconic King of Siam. First, almost everyone in his court is actually played by Asians. And the king himself is now powerfully inhabited by Ken Watanabe, the Japanese movie star of “The Last Samurai” in his musical-theater — not to mention his English-language — debut. Contrary to rumored problems with his pronunciation, every word is as clear as the impact behind it.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Director Bartlett Sher banishes even the faintest trace of mid-century quaintness or patronizing exoticism from the material, treating the 1951 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic with unimpeachable dramatic integrity and emotional authenticity that are equaled by this landmark production’s exquisite musicianship and vocals.
Matt Windham, AMNY, 3 stars: The King and I” holds up incredibly well as a piece of drama. The songs are beautiful, the characters are complex and its themes of democratization, cultural miscommunication and gender inequality are timely….It is very difficult to understand what Watanabe is saying. He has an imposing presence and highly theatrical spirit, but his diction stops the show in its tracks.
Robert Kahn of NBC: The March of Siamese Children,” in which a dozen of the king’s royal sons and daughters take solo turns greeting him and Anna, is one of this revival’s great pleasures. Another is the kaleidoscopic ballet within “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” the anti-slavery play written by Tuptim after Anna lends her a copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”