Saturday, April 30, 2011

The King and I at Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago

How can one of the grandest Rodgers & Hammerstein shows be done as an intimate production? Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago is presenting as there 2010-2011 season finale the classic “The King and I” though June 5th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Chicago. There are many aspects that have been done intimately that work for this production however there is one giant factor that works against it.

First let me get the negative out of the way because there are so many things to whistle a happy tune about in this production. Porchlight employees a two piano arrangement of the score, with one piano on each side of the stage as what they call a symbolic representation of the meeting of two worlds and that's all very well but it takes out the grandness of the score and serves as a disservice to one of the greatest Rogers & Hammerstein scores that there ever was. Imagine if you have the choice to get tickets to a recital or Chicago Symphony, what would you pick. I'm not sure the reasons why they chose this concept but of all the 20th Century Broadway Composers R & H are known for their lush scores and are probably not the best choices to apply this treatment to.

If you can listen past that the rest of this smart production directed with love and care by L. Walter Stearns who is concluding his eleven-year run as artistic director with this production in order to move to the Mercury Theater, is wonderful. He keeps the scenes moving along and the crafts the performances in a natural way that nothing seems forced.

In the central role of Anna Leonowens Brianna Borger dazzles as she takes command of the stage with grace and elegance and delivers “Getting to Know You” with charm and “Hello, Young Lovers” the longing of love past. Her “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” is acted to the hilt. Wayne Hu as The King commands the stage and is able to switch from authority to the comedic aspects of the role in an instance and his smart enough to give a fresh take on the role and not imitate a performance that others have. I found Kate Garassino's Lady Thiang strong in convictions and in her heart delivering a gorgeous “Something Wonderful,” Jillian Anne Jocson and Erik Kaiko touching as the lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha especially in their two duets. The rest of the cast including their children played up the comedic aspects of their role more so then other productions I have seen and it worked beautiful.

L. Walter Stearns should be very proud that he finished his run with porchlight with this production as you can see the work he's done in it. Brenda Didier choreography especially during “Small House of Uncle Toms Cabin” was superb and even in an intimate stage didn't feel like it lost anything. Bill Morey's costumes were gorgeous and even though the intimate two piano idea was a major disappointment I did feel that Eugene Dizon and Allison Hendrix played the vast score beautifully I can't imagine what it would have sounded like even with half an orchestra.

It's funny with all The King and I's I have seen in my life I found this intimate production to be filled with many nuances then many of the others the only thing that I thing it missed is what makes the show so grand. It felt like a play with music which could work but when you have songs as glorious as these to take it to another level any thing else can be quite jarring. However I would still recommend to anyone to see a fully realized story presented on stage.

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