Richard and I saw this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on Broadway on 2/5. I'd had my eye on it for a while because it was starring Kelli O'Hara, one of my favorite musical stars. I've seen her many times, in *Nice Work If You Can Get It* and *The Bridges of Madison County* on Broadway, in *The Merry Widow* at the Met, and most impressively, in *Far From Heaven* off Broadway. But most germane to this show, I first saw her in *South Pacific* in this same theater, the grand yet intimate Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center, in a production by the same director, Bartlett Sher.
She was revelatory in *South Pacific*. Her greatest moment was "I'm in love with a wonderful guy" - - previous performers have delivered it like a show-stopping song in a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, but she made it a pivotal moment in the emotional life of her character. I was shocked and completely dissolved in tears. So I was excited to see her in *The King and I*, and thrilled that she finally won the Tony (after five nominations and losses). But I didn't want to pay any fancy prices. I was able to get discount tickets ($49 each) and jumped on them like a duck on a june bug. You're often put in lousy seats in a situation like this, but we had gorgeous seats, center(ish), row K.
O'Hara was extraordinary. She sang like a dream (she was educated at Juilliard, after all) and gave all her sincerity and charm to the role. She's tailor-made for this kind of mid-century show, and one imagines (by which I mean I imagine) she's even better than the women who originated the roles. But who's to say. I love her and love what she does, and will run to see her in her next show.
The king was played by Hoon Lee. I heard from a few friends (and read online) that movie star Ken Watanabe, who had originated the role in this production, was having a hard time speaking and singing in English, and thankfully that wasn't a problem with Lee. He gave a solid performance, sang well, looked sexy in his Siamese costumes, and didn't steal any of the spotlight from O'Hara. Very gracious of him.
The problem I had with the show was with the show itself. Surely it couldn't ask for a more beautiful or respectful production - - Sher is genius (based on this and *South Pacific*) at presenting these shows as they are but somehow making them relevant to a 21st century audience. But he can't really change the content of the show. It's still a little too quaint, by which I mean racially offensive. It helps that, in this production, all of the Asian roles appear to have been cast with Asian actors, but it doesn't make the characters any less dopey. Years ago Kenneth Tynan reviewed another Rodgers and Hammerstein Oriental repast in the New Yorker, *Flower Drum Song*. He summed up the problems with that show, *The King and I*, and *South Pacific* by refiguring a song from *South Pacific*: "Baby talk, keep talking baby talk."