The First THE KING & I Review: The Show Is A Visual Feast

King-and-I-web

We’ve received our first review for THE KING & I, and it highly recommends the show for an wonderful evening of entertainment. Read on for Paul Gnadt’s excellent review of the show, then call 817-202-0600 or visit http://www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve your seats.

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Arrange for an audience with Plaza’s ‘The King and I’

By Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

As usual at a Plaza Theatre Company musical production, the singing is outstanding, the sets simplistically creative and the choreography a kaleidoscope of color.

But this time, those on stage must share equal billing with a behind-the-scenes crew who doesn’t utter a word or sing a note: the 11-person team who assisted costume designer Tina Barrus with the construction of the variety of colorful garments for what is an enjoyable trip to old Siam in the PTC’s presentation of “The King and I,” playing through March 8 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Maralena Almond, Shawn Baily, Soni Barrus, Rachel Bond, Dawn Diyer, Stacey Greenawalt, Elizabeth Morris, Dale Parker, Glenda Simmons, Amy Skinner and Danno Smith must not have any fingers left after stitching, sewing and assembling costumes for 43 actors who seemingly change clothes every time they appear and reappear.

From left in front, Jay Cornils as Kralahoma, Joel Lagrone as the King, and, far right, ChrIstia Caudle as Lady Thaing, bow toward Buda while Meredith

Your visual sense satisfied, your auditory receptors will love the voices of Meredith Browning as Anna Leonowens, Joel Lagrone as the King, Kate Vela as Tuptim and Jonathan Metting as Lun Tha.

No PTC production is complete without Jay Cornils, who, in his 22nd PTC appearance, is Kralahome, a sort of right-hand man to the King.

Browning, who Plaza regulars will remember as Maria in “The Sound of Music,” has most of the solos and her university level (Abilene Christian, Boston) vocal performance-trained voice is a delight on Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II favorites such as “Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance?”

Lagrone also does it right, just as he did as Don Quixote in PTC’s “Man of La Mancha.” Instead of attempting to mimic Yul Brynner’s macho-man from the “King” movie, Lagrone keeps his shirt on and plays it very understated, yet in command.

Based on Margaret Langdon’s 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” which itself is based on the true story of Leonowens, an English woman in the 1800s who, after her husband dies, takes a job as teacher to the multitude of children sired by King Mongkut.

The King boasts of having 67 children, “With three on the way,” and Plaza rounds up 23 children and seven wives, all simultaneously on stage multiple times.

The story begins as Anna arrives in Siam (now Thailand), and her Western values are immediately confronted with the king’s dozens of wives and concepts of polygamy, slavery and obedience to his authority.

Further tension is created by the secret affair of Tuptim (Vela), who is liked by the King, but is in love with Lun Tha (Metting) and wants to be free.
Vela and Metting have good voices, and their duets on “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed,” are heartfelt.

When the king learns that European powers think he is a barbarian and are sending a British ambassador (JaceSon Barrus, who also plays ship Capt. Orton, designed the sets, sells popcorn and escorts you to your seat), he is persuaded by Anna to orchestrate an elaborate dinner and performance to prove he is educated and the nation has culture.

Much, perhaps a little too much, of the second act is devoted to a play-within-a-play: Tuptim’s interpretation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Tuptim titles the play “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” and uses dance to translate her understanding of Stowe’s story.

The dance features high school sophomore Katherine Balaban running through the woods of the PTC stage by hopping on one leg across a sheet that becomes a frozen river, while child actors run across the stage with noise makers simulating thunder and others hold mobiles of make believe snow flakes.
Your senses run wild, but your imagination knows exactly what is happening.

Tension meets conflict when the King discovers that Tuptim has been having an affair with Lun Tha and is about to discipline her with his whip — as would be the custom under his rule — but he cannot do it when he realizes how barbaric and uncivilized it is.

You probably already know how the story ends, sorta sad, but with hope for the future, like many of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals that have underlying themes of social commentary, such as the racial prejudice of “South Pacific.” In “King,” the idea of acceptance of others can be identified as a not-so-hidden agenda.

But here’s the deal: you can spend the evening psychoanalyzing every lyric and line, or you can simply sit back and enjoy some wonderful singing, colorful costumes and a really good story.

See it and the next day you’ll be whistling a happy tune.

Directed by the husband and wife team of Soni and Jodie Barrus, with choreography by Keli Price, music direction by Soni Barrus, sound design by G. Aaron Siler, and lighting designed by Cameron Barrus, “The King and I” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Plaza Theatre, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $13 for children age 13 and under — and can be purchased online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.

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