“The King and I,” a true classic musical, was exquisitely presented Friday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in the first of three performances there by its national touring company.
That presentation of the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein version of the story of the English governess who, in 1862 went to Siam (now Thailand) to teach the king’s children, holds up well 68 years later, thanks to its 2015 adaptation, its innovative stage and Tony Award-winning costumes, and impressive performances from its primary cast.
That starts with Angela Baumgardner, who plays the 19th century spitfire Anna Leonowens, carrying the heart of the story of the clash between the teacher and the king with dramatic dignity and a fine singing voice.
And, importantly, she has great chemistry with Pedro Ka’awaloa, who captures the conflicted King, at once an imperial ruler and suffering from “A Puzzlement,” a condition that afflicts most of the male characters in the show that is dominated by its women.
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They include Lady Thiang, the king’s first wife, who is played by Deanna Choi, and Princess Tuptim, a “present” to the King from the ruler of Burma who carries on a secret affair with Lun Tha (Dongwoo Kang) that provides the love story that is requisite in musical classics. Tuptim is played by Paulina Yeung, whose operatic soprano is the ensemble’s strongest voice.
Choosing highlights from the three-hour production is difficult, because it is so uniformly well performed. That said, in Act One, “Getting to Know You” is a smile-inducing charmer that finds the little princes and princesses, who are beyond cute, encircling Anna as she sings one of the musical’s best known songs,
In Act Two, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a ballet that recasts Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Siam, is a perfectly imagined set piece that is wonderfully danced by Akina Kitazawa.
In many ways, “The King and I” remains a musical of its time, without, for example, the constant dance numbers of contemporary music theater. But as the company’s performance demonstrated Friday, it is a classic for a reason.