Playbill Critics Circle: Review The King and I

News   Playbill Critics Circle: Review The King and I
 
The 1996 The King and I won the Tony for Best Revival. Tonys also were won by the show's designers and by star Donna Murphy.The critics have weighed in with their opinions; here's a chance to add your opinion to theirs.

The 1996 The King and I won the Tony for Best Revival. Tonys also were won by the show's designers and by star Donna Murphy.The critics have weighed in with their opinions; here's a chance to add your opinion to theirs.

What did you think of it? Did you like the new interpretation? Is it a good show for kids? How is the show holding up? What do you think about it in general? The story, the songs, the performers?

Write your review -- long or short -- and email it to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at robert_viagas@playbill.com. Reviews will be posted as they come in.

Please include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course.

Here are the responses so far. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took the time to respond: From Robin Kyin:
I recently saw The King and I on Broadway. From the moment I stepped into the theater, I knew the night was going to be a special one. The theater had beautiful Thai figurines on the walls. Instead of a curtain, they had gorgeous panels with more Thai art. Then when the "monks" came out, the mood was really set -- all this happened before the orchestra started playing a single note!!!!!
This current production is significantly different from other versions. For one thing, it seems that the comedy factor has been boosted up. This version is ten times more funny than the movie -- even in scenes with the exact same dialogue. Most of this must be attributed to Lou Diamond Phillips' hilarious performance. He plays the part like a little child, throwing temper tantrums left and right. At first, I thought this was a cheap way of making his performance different from Yul Brynners but as I watched the way he and Donna Murphy worked with each other, I didn't think so anymore. He is obviously a true comic genius since he was able to break Murphy's concentration.
In many of the comic scenes between Phillips and Murphy, Murphy broke out into laughter even though the scene called for her to be angry or annoyed. It was funnier to watch her try to keep a straight face or to watch her turn her face from the audience in hopes that we wouldn't see her losing it. This made me respect Phillips a lot because from what I gather from Murphy's two Tonys and her performance in Passion, she's a serious, talented, professional and it must take a great deal to affect her that much during a live performance.
The only "problem" I had with Phillips portrayal was that in being so funny, he lost some of the more serious, more touching aspects of the King role. This monarch was a man of the past desperately but vainly trying to be a man of the future. This personal conflict was what I liked about the role so much. Still, Phillips' performance was very enjoyable to watch.
As for Donna Murphy, all I can say is that she is a very unique performer. I can't understand how anyone can be so talented. How can she be a moving actress and a great singer at the same time? It baffles me.
The other actors were very good, especially Taewon Kim as Lady Thiang and Randall Duk Kim as the Kralahome. Joohee Choi was good also but for the part of poor little girl forced out of her homeland to become a concubine, I would've preferred someone with a soft, sweet voice instead of Choi's powerful operatic one.
Together with the dazzling lights of red and amber, and the gorgeous costumes, The King and I is really a must see show! (2/28/97)

 

From Christopher M. Crowthers
Okay, let's face it, I am not a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Who hasn't seen each of their shows like 50 times. But the revival of "The King and I" definitely changed my mind. I had the opportunity to see the show last summer and was completely "awed." I loved it. What an truly beautiful show. Not only the set, costumes, and lighting(which were awesome!) but also the show itself. I think that Donna Murphy was VERY deserving of her Tony Award for the role of Anna. Her performance was very good. Her voice and stage presence are simply amazing, but what truly impressed me was her acting. Often times in musicals the performer will havea beautiful voice but cannot act. But Donna Murphy's acting was outstanding, almost like she was born to play the role. Lou Diamond Phillips also was very good. Portraying the role of the King a little differently than the "norm," I still enjoyed his performance. I think that they way he played the role, in that boyish sort-of-way, was very different, BUT still very entertaining. I also thought that Luntha and Tuptim were absolutely amazing. They were so passionate with their roles, and their voices were beautiful. Basically I loved the show. From the sets, to the children (they were SO adorable!) to the leads, everything was so good. (2/28/97)

 

Pat Murphy (KGM97@aol.com):
I thought it was absolutely wonderful! Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips are so terrific together. Donna's voice is exquisite and she certainly is worthy of her Tonys. The costumes were so beautiful and well as the set designs. From the moment they stepped on stage until the finale, there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel uplifted and thrilled with this show! I had the pleasure of going backstage after and seeing Donna and Lou Diamond and discussing the show with them. They were so warm and accommdating. Her costumes are as beautiful in person as you see them on stage. We hope to see Donna in future plays to come. (2/5/97)

 

From Jerry.Stockstill:
I recently saw The King and I (Feb 1st) and I must say that I was not at all impressed. Sitting in the 6th row center orchestra, the sound was so bad that I was unable to make out any of the dialogue between musical numbers. The sound during the musical numbers was not all that much better. After the first solo, my wife and I asked each other why Donna Murphy had won a Tony. Throughout the entire show she was weak and unmoving, and the most annoying thing about her singing is that she never opens her eyes... she's always squinting like the lights hurt her eyes or something. Lou Diamond Phillips was nearly as irritating, speeding through his lines so quickly that most of his dialogue sounded unintelligible. Where has the hype about this show come from? If this were the first musical I have seen, which is definitely not the case, maybe I would have been impressed. But after seeing this show, I have to agree with the belief that Americans do not know how to do musicals as well as the British. I feel duped into spending $75 a ticket to see something that I could have seen at my local high school. (2/3/97)

 

From Robert Merza:
I saw THE KING AND I last month and thought it was fabulous! You haven't seen Broadway until you've seen THE KING AND I! (1/20/97)

 

From Jena Casbon:
I saw king and I August 14 and really liked: the sets, costumes, kids and Donna Murphy. That's about it. (1/4/97)

 

From Anand Ramaswamy (anandr@hgo.com) Houston, TX:
The King & I is probably the most beautiful production I have ever seen (just edging out Show Boat.) It is massive and lavish, yet still manages to give elaborate scenes like "Shall We Dance" a certain intimacy between the characters. It is also one of the strongest casts I have seen on Broadway. Murphy and Phillips are amazing. Phillips was surprisingly believable and was not at all second to Yul Brenner. Phillips is the King in his own right.
There is no question why Donna Murphy has two Tony's - let us hope we don't lose her to Hollywood like many other so-called Broadway divas. All the supporting characters are wonderful, particularly Lady Thiang and Tuptim. And honestly, who can resist all those adorable children in those great costumes? Definitely a production to see, and definitely on Broadway where the theater and all the ambiance truly evokes the spirit that was Siam. (1/2/97)

 

From Mary Cloutier (tcloutie@cvn.net) Gettysburg, PA:
"The King and I" - the title will forever live in the history of theater; not simply as a musical, but as a musical masterpiece. I, myself, have never been a huge Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, but "The King and I" is a work of art that is so different from their other musicals. The revival of the show truly brought a breath of fresh air into the Broadway theatre.
After listening to recordings of Donna Murphy's voice and watching the televised version of "Passion," I knew I had to see her perform live. When I sat down in my seat at the Neil Simon Theatre, I had expectations that I thought no human could ever live up to. Well, Ms. Murphy not only fulfilled, but exceeded my expectations. Her interpretation of Mrs. Anna was warm, but with an edge that left the audience on the edges of their seats in a trance. What more can be said about Ms. Murphy? Words would not do her justice.
I was also extremely impressed with Lou Diamond Phillips's interpretation of the King. He faced the unfortunate challenge of filling the incomparable Yul Brynner's shoes; but after seeing this production, I cannot imagine the King being portrayed in any other light than as Mr. Phillips manages to do. I felt his King was more vulnerable, sensitive, and, yes, more believable.
The costumes are literally breathtaking. There are moments in the show when there is an audible gasp in the audience when Ms. Murphy appears on stage in one of her gorgeous hoop-skirt dresses.
I wish I could express more of my feelings about this show in words, but it is impossible. I left the theatre feeling overwhelmed from the beauty and talent that this show contains. I am not ashamed to admit that my knees were shaking from the rush of energy that rushed through me during curtain call. I have been to the theatre countless times, but had never experienced this kind of euphoria. I suppose you have to see it to believe it. (1/1/97)

 

From Christy Guardino (18):
I attend a Broadway play at least once a year, usually for my birthday. I always by the CD at the theater, because I enjoy the songs so much. I went to see The King and I this month, and I loved it. The recording for this show is one of the best I have ever heard. I can picture the play as I listen to it. I strongly recommend seeing this play, and purchasing the CD. (11/9/96)

 

From Rakesh Satyal (Fairfield, OH):
Shall I tell you what I think of it?
After seeing "The King and I" this past August, I can personally say that it reigns.
I've seen many shows before, including "Phantom," "Les Miz," "Cats," "Saigon," "Beauty and the Beast" (with the original cast), "Superstar," "Sunset," and -- most recently --"Rent," but I must say that the musical which takes the cake is "The King and I." It mixes incredible acting with gorgeous music. It mixes lavish costumes with even lavish-er sets. And it mixes two of the best-written lead parts into one of the greatest musical stories ever.
Of course it needn't be said that Donna Murphy is PHENOMENAL! When I listened to my "Passion" CD before I saw the show, I thought, "She's really good." But when you see her in action, you realize how amazing she is. Everything is so natural. From the moment she busts out with "I Whistle a Happy Tune" to her last pose beside the King, she is magic itself, and even if the show wasn't good -- which definitely is not true! -- it would be worth crossing a desert just to see her!
I had my reservations about Lou Diamond Phillips at first. But who couldn't after seeing Yul Brynner flawlessly play the part in the movie? What I saw was surprising. It is clear that Lou Diamond Phillips is not concerned with the past King. He plays it in a totally different way, with more child in him and more of a confused accent on his words, and the result is very good indeed. I -- who worship Yul Brynner in the movie -- actually forgot the old and eagerly accepted the new. And it must be said that Mr. Phillips possesses a great voice for someone who has or has not sung before. And the result when his King meets Donna Murphy's Anna is hysterical.
The supporting roles were filled very well, also. Joohee Choi was magnificent in her singing of Tuptim, and Jose Llana was also superb with his vocalization of Lun Tha, but these two characters unfortunately got the weaker half of Hammerstein's pen. Both Tuptim and Lun Tha are very 2-dimensional characters, but the two actors on Broadway do a successful job of adding a third dimension to otherwise "flat" characters. Randall Duk Kim is a fine actor, and he triggers many emotions in his portrayal of the Kralahome (his yells of "You have destroy King!" sent shivers up my spine). Taewon Kim sang "Something Wonderful" -- one of my favorite songs from the show -- as something wonderful. And the children were great. Not only were Louis and Chulalongkorn superb, but every other child was just as polished in his or her actions.
The technical aspects of the show were impeccable. The sets are some of the most extravagant that a theatregoer can behold, with their blazing reds and soothing blues. The lighting is extremely effective (look for the beautiful blue-lighted scrim that drapes the background as Tuptim and Lun Tha sing), and the costumes are just breathtaking. (Donna Murphy's ball gown is even fancier than Deborah Kerr's in the movie!) The pit is also quite perfect.
This was my favorite musical even before I saw it. It is a fantastic show for kids because it tells about how differences should be resolved but sometimes aren't. It is true that this production is a little more grown-up in its interpretation, but that is fine, for it just brings reality closer. Director Christopher Renshaw has added a unique touch of Thai (Siamese) language and culture to the show, and this is icing on the cake for a show with such cultural wonders as the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet. The show engrosses the viewer and encompasses him/her into Siam itself.
All in all, I feel it is worth traveling to New York just to see this show. For people familiar with the show: you are in for a big treat. For people unfamiliar with the show: you are in for a big treat. It is the rebirth of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best musical collaboration. It is A+ acting. It is stellar singing. It is musical magic. It is something wonderful.
Long live "The King"! (11/5/96)

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