Review: ‘The King and I’ is packed with talent, humor and chemistry

Broadway Grand Rapids presented opening night of “The King and I” at Devos Performance Hall Tuesday night. The full crowd was laughing and smiling all night at this hilarious musical with an exceptionally talented cast.

I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing “The King and I,” but I was very entertained with the humor and ease of the musical, and the three hours flew by quick. The first act began boldly with a giant ship taking up the entire stage, and a Mary Poppins-like character, British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow) arriving on the shore of Siam, a small country that is now Thailand. (Turns out Shaddow in fact did play the part of Mary Poppins with Papermill Playhouse.) Thanks to a truly talented cast, the musical was great fun to watch.

Set in 1860s Siam, a country torn in politics, the production staff showcased the scenery excellently — colorful curtains and costumes, Buddha statues, furniture and decor of the time and culture. It felt like we were all taken back in time. The culture was really captured through the set decorations, clothes and dance. Each set transition was smooth and seamless.

Through witty dialogue, facial expressions and beautiful music, the characters develop in the first act. We meet Miss Anna Leonowens (Shaddow) who is a charming and lovable character, and Shaddow’s vocal talent is outstanding. She is really the star of the show, next to Jose Llana, who plays the King of Siam. This character is strong, intense and mean, but also funny and has a soft side, which can be a tricky role to play. Llana showed no struggle in his performance and really meshed well with Shaddow. The show is hilarious, and the king and Miss Anna had an amazing chemistry together. The jokes were well-timed, and the comic relief was used effectively when needed.

Besides the beautiful singing and orchestral music in the show, a lot of ballet and contemporary dancing was performed by the cast. Every step was on beat and audience members — myself included — would smile and look on in astonishment at how well-versed and practiced these performers were.

A unique point in the performance was in Scene 3 of Act II, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” Ballet — the Siamese characters are performing a ballet for English leaders based on a young Siam woman’s recollection of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The performance within the performance was funny and visually appealing. This part is especially interesting, because the narration is done by a Siam slave Tuptim, who is in love with a man, but is supposed to be loyal to the King. The pair’s love story goes alongside the story of the developing non-romantic relationship between the King and Miss Anna, which would seem like a stretch in the storyline, which is probably why the writer, Oscar Hammerstein II, chose to create a separate love storyline. Miss Anna, a widow, sings a beautiful song about young love, almost actually talking to the audience, which was full of lovers, young and old.

Although the show was long, it didn’t feel like it. The “King and I” was as entertaining as it was full of talent. The music was gorgeous in every way, though some words were hard to understand with the operatic singing. I would recommend this musical for anyone at any age; it’s funny, easy to follow and heart-warming, to say the least.

The King and I
Broadway Grand Rapids
DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave. NW
Through June 10, $38+