The King and I | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The King and I


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THE KING AND I, Auditorium Theatre. This revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's classic musical--the fact-based story of a Victorian Brit hired to tutor the children of the king of Siam--boasts elegant decor, glittering costumes, and a faithful re-creation of the brilliant Buddhist dance-theater retelling of Uncle Tom's Cabin by choreographer Jerome Robbins. But these strengths can't overcome the total lack of nuance, delicacy, and emotional honesty in this coarse road show, which is strong on bumptious comedy but short on moving drama. (As the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire proved a few years back with its beautifully acted staging, what gives The King and I enduring power is its balance of humor and tragedy.)

Director Baayork Lee, who played one of the Siamese children in the work's 1951 premiere, has failed to rein in a hammy star turn by the miscast Sandy Duncan as Anna, the genteel teacher locked in a sexually charged conflict with her royal employer. Baritone Martin Vidnovic, who also voiced the king in the musical's recent animated-film version, apparently thinks he's still in a cartoon. And the blaringly overamplified sound--an offense to the near perfect acoustics of the Auditorium Theatre--renders Rodgers's lilting melodies shrill and many of Hammerstein's exquisitely crafted lyrics indecipherable. That the daily reviewers gave this production a thumbs-up shows how low their expectations of downtown touring productions have sunk.

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