PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The King and I: 7 June 2011 - Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO

Lou Diamond Phillips has performed the role of the King for over a decade and he has mastered it.

The King and I

City: Kansas City, MO
Venue: Starlight Theater
Date: 2011-06-07

Starlight Theatre has always been a top-notch venue for the performing arts. At once an intimate, outdoor concert space, it also is a stage for its regular summertime musicals. It holds 8,000 people; nearly every seat in the place provides a decent perspective. David Bowie put on a most rewarding and standout concert in 2004, playing songs that spanned his career. Arcade Fire’s recent April gig also proved efficacious. But Starlight has reliably lured a number of Broadway plays, and acclaimed actors, to Kansas City too. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical, The King and I, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, was perhaps the finest introduction to the theatre’s seasonal lineup: 9 to 5, Guys and Dolls, Cinderella, Mamma Mia!, and Xanadu. Tonight’s rendition was, in fact, a critical and inimitable one. With Lou Diamond Phillips at the helm, The King and I was almost certainly flawless, credible, and instructive.

This musical’s narrative concerns Anna (Rachel Bay Jones), an English teacher called to Siam by its reigning monarch (Lou Diamond Phillips). It dissects a myriad of topics, including politics, colonialism, gender, culture, romance, and, in fact, religion. Siam (modern day Thailand) is officially a Buddhist kingdom, and in one of the more hilarious and overtly comedic scenes, the King demonstrated his presumably learned critique of Christianity (Anna’s faith). It was also quite serious in that Phillips was most convincing during his pointed ridicule of The Bible; that according to Moses the world was created in merely six days, and the deity took a nap on the seventh. “Moses shall have been a fool!” ranted the King. This scene occurred early, however, and aimed to underscore the King’s belief in his own cultural, political, and sectarian superiority. The musical considered a more precise question: Is cultural relativism a tenable position, or not?

The performance was didactic because, in some nebulous sense, both lead characters eventually come to recognize some of their own cultural limitations. The King’s unusual strictness notwithstanding, his defined belief in monarchy is purely conventional; like Buddhism, it is likely long-standing Siamese custom. In this sense, when Phillips’s King adamantly proclaims to Anna that “King need no one”, he is simply defending his own title, and his nation’s government, and Siam’s custom with reference to women. Though used to ordering others about, he actually takes Anna’s advice, a form of damage control, lest he be deemed a “barbarian” by the deleterious British Empire. As for the heroine, Anna, she too recognized her own limitation: she acceded to the King’s concubines that her English hoop-skirt was only Western custom, and largely metaphorical at that. Before, she objected to the Siamese customs toward women and thought herself a servant. Ultimately though, she accepted the King’s ring as well as a house next to the palace, not a suite inside it.

The subplot, which involved the dispirited, star-crossed concubine-slave Tuptim (Diane Phelan), was either overshadowed by the main plot or simply not given enough directorial attention. That said, the second act also included just nine songs, and the dramatic and thematic emphases were placed on the subplot, as commentary on the main plot. The Shakespearean play-within-the-play, an idiosyncratic but grandly performed take on Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, took the limelight in the second act. It may have overtaken Phillips’ few regal moments. Its choreography was most exemplary, with all varieties of movement and showy pageantry, most especially the rather elegant ballet routine by Eliza (Peng-Yu Chen). Costumes were majestic and singular. This material bit of pomp and circumstance was lengthy, only slightly overdone, but may have competed with the Pope’s flamboyant, ritualistic 2008 visit to Yankee Stadium.

The King of Siam is of course a character type, the fearsome Asian autocrat. But tonight he was no reductive Kim Jong Il sort. Lou Diamond Phillips confidently managed to proffer complexity and subtlety to the role. A Tony Award nominee for his 1996 Broadway rendition, Phillips has performed this role for over a decade and, in my estimation, he has mastered it. He combined La Bamba vulnerability alongside a certain Stand and Deliver effortless, punkish machismo. He donned roughly ten forms of attire, the best of which being his opening monarchical gold robe.

As for Jones, in the role of Anna, a few of her scenes were not particularly notable. Jones appeared not entirely into the role, though admittedly this rendition privileges the King (Phillips). Her sobbing seemed incredible and forced; her recitation of a few lines was not fully enunciated. However, her independent-minded demand to both confront and defend the King was most persuasive, and many of her songs were excellently sung. Her best scene entailed her defiant, polished rendition of “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” during which she tore off her hoop-skirt to reveal slacks underneath; a pure emblem, this scene commented on Anna’s own mistreatment by the King, but also her mistreatment due to English convention. The King and I remains just as relevant today as it was when first performed in 1951 at St. James Theatre.

* * *

Starlight Theatre is a private 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, where performing arts share center stage with education.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.