TAYLORSVILLE — The King and I is a classic that is sure to brighten anyone’s day. My partner in crime tonight had never seen The King and I (gasp). Yes, she has lived under a rock her whole life (just teasing… well, kinda). I suppose not everyone in the world can share the theater junkie’s obsession. She enjoyed the show and I loved being around someone who was new to the story and the humor of the ever-lovable King of Siam. While my partner in crime enjoyed the show for its newness and wonderful story, I found the cast sweet, but not overly impressive.For those of you who may have also been living under a rock, I am thrilled to introduce you to a wonderfully romantic and challenging love story. Based on a true story, Anna journeys to Siam to teach English to the Kings children (67 of them when the story begins). She meets a stubborn but wise King who wants to change with the world, but only knows how to live the way he has been taught.
Growing up with this show, I am forever faithful to Yul Brenner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Anna from the 1956 movie version. They both won the Oscar that year for their roles in The King and I, so they are a tough act to follow. But Kevin Burtenshaw (playing the King) and Dina Oliver (portraying Anna Leonowens) worked well together in their roles; they were both decent actors and I felt invited into their performances. Oliver was especially warm and likeable. I felt that Burtenshaw did a good job capturing the essence of the dynamic King of Siam.
I would like to commend Camille Jensen Clayton in her role of Tuptim and the brief but well-done appearances by Frank Castro as Lun Tha. Clayton had a light beautiful voice that seemed to come from her as easily as breathing. Her stage presence was contained and courageous at the same time. I found that when others were on stage she interacted well and seemed to come alive. However, when she was alone, I felt that she was disconnected from the audience (maybe due to nerves). She very rarely looked out to the audience, often closing her eyes or staring at the ground. I felt very detached from her during these times. Steve Jones played the young Prince Chululongkorn and I was pleasantly surprised with his strong stage presence. Of course, the children were delightful and I was impressed when a minor mishap occurred in the second half and the cast continued acting without stepping out of character too much. The professionalism and ability to keep going reminded me why I love live theater so much.
The night began a bit rocky. The advertised (on Now Playing Utah) and confirmed (by Taylorsville Arts Council) start time of the show was 6:30. Alas, it began at 7:30 (7:30 printed on the tickets as well). This made for a lot of time to kill and a slightly negative start to the evening. Also, the conductor sitting on a tall stool right in front of the first row, so it was almost like he was standing—which obviously caused problems for the audience. I think it would have been fine, had they warned those sitting behind him that they wouldn’t be able to see.
There were wonderful moments where I completely lost myself in the show. The entire “Shall We Dance” scene has always been my favorite and the ability of Kevin Burtenshaw (playing the King) and Dina Oliver (portraying Anna Leonowens) to sweep me into the magic had me thrilled. The costumes were believable (Stephanie Jones) and the lighting (Cole Adams) was good most of the time.
But the sound was a train wreck. I am not sure if the sound was poor because of a lack of funding or technical difficulties, but I was sitting on the 5th row and—despite being familiar with the story and music—was lost at times because I couldn’t hear. The idea of having the fantastic Taylorsville Symphony Orchestra in the pit was wonderful and I was impressed with a live orchestra in a smaller production like this. However, they were in front of the audience, and a majority of the time they were louder than the actors. It seems that the actors were missing mics or the mics weren’t working. (The entire first scene of the second act was barely audible.) This was unfortunate because I found my attention wandering during the songs because I couldn’t hear them.
Overall, the message of love and change were strong: often change is a challenge met with resistance and stubbornness. With love, kindness and respect we are able to slowly change the world.
Tickets to this show were $7 and I would highly recommend trying a local production of theater over any recent blockbuster movie. It was not Broadway (and it certainly didn’t cost Broadway prices) but it was sweet and entertaining. You can take up to 6 people for a discounted pass of $30. At this price, it was well worth an evening experiencing live theater. The King and I closed tonight, but keep an eye out for future productions from Taylorsville Arts Council.