BWW Review: Kelli O'Hara Whistles Her Way into Japan in THE KING & I
When you enter the theater to look for your seats, your eyes are instantly drawn to the open stage, gilded with the rich-red and Buddha-gold colors of Siam. You are immediately transported back in time, and can almost smell the spices in the air. Since the show plays in English, the decorative panels on either side of the stage conveniently double as a space for Japanese subtitles, which read up and down. The first few moments after the lights dim, the conductor is seen passionately leading the overture. Finally, the story begins, and a giant ship silently sails onto stage in the mist.
"Much better than when I saw it in New York!" - a young adult patron, who attended today's show with her grandfather.
With her silky voice, Kelli O'Hara is a dream to watch live. Her understanding of this story and portrayal of Anna, a strong woman in a time when women were still expected to be weak, is inspiring and moving, particularly in today's Japanese society. Japan doesn't put men above women; however, the culture still expects husbands and wives to have certain roles in society. Some girls and boys still struggle between pleasing their family and finding their own ways to happiness, so it's invigorating to see youth be encouraged by characters like Anna, and Prince Chulalongkorn (Aaron Teoh).
Kelli has played Annaprobably hundreds of times, yet her performance is still as fresh as ever! Her timing is natural, and we can feel that every word she says, cries, yells, or laughs is filled with truth. Hopefully actors in Japan who wish to play in English can learn from her technique.
"I am a big fan of Ken! I have seen all his movies. Today's performance was exceptional." - a Japanese man about Ken's age, who attended the show with his wife.
Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam was very funny and captivating. The King is a man who is obligated to tradition, but yearns to show the world that his country is just as modern and intelligent as any other. Ken shows us this conflict very honestly. For a Japanese man to play a character who publicly displays his emotions, in his home country of Japan where people keep their emotions private, it's cathartic to see the King acknowledge his own flaws, and yet stay proud of who he is.
Both Anna and the King learn about the importance of each other's perspectives. In the end, we agree-to-disagree sometimes and learn to compromise sometimes. With more and more international relationships blossoming in Japan, it's a good reminder that open communication is key to understanding one other.
All the actors of The King & I are beautiful story-tellers, using their costumes and the set to physicalize their words. Whether you speak English or Japanese, are young in age or young at heart, you will enjoy this new version.
If you have seen the technicolor movie, or a past version of the stage production, you will be pleased to notice that the compassionate director, Bartlett Sher, has removed all the old stereotypes and racism from this revival. You don't feel like the story is mocking any culture, or even making commentary at all. It's stripped down to the common themes we all experience as humans: finding strength, knowing who you are, but being open to learning from others, using your influence to make positive changes, "etcetera, etcetera, and so forth." The King & I is a relatable story for Japan, as currently the culture is on a societal teeter-totter, much like Siam was. Westerners love Japan for its stunning history, food, folktales, art, and artists, but, it's evolving. Much of the language has adapted English vocabulary, and the religion is slowly getting lost into yesterday. How much should a country change to keep up with "the West"? As The King & I show concludes: we must trust our youth to decide what's best for their future.