While working at my college’s radio station for three years, I guess you can say I went on a “hiatus” from my musical roots. Don’t get me wrong, I loved discovering new music, immersing myself in every sort of indie, punk, electronic, hip-hop, underground, whatever-you-name-it music there is out there, but there was something always missing. I didn’t realize it until after I graduated – I missed Musical Theater. As an awkward, distressed pre-teen, Musical Theater helped put me on the right track. I find myself coming back to it now, starting the new year by watching a show at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.
I spent the last three weeks with my nephew, Johann, who is the epitome of a musical theater geek. Everything we talk about is either about singing and theater (and food), so hanging out with him really stimulated my love for the art again. Since he was in town from San Francisco, I promised him we’d catch a show while he was here. We ended up picking Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, not really knowing what it was about, but excited for the amazing cast and the two incredible leads of the show. Johann, JR (our cousin), Josh (my boyfriend), and I spent the rest of the week talking about what we loved and didn’t love.
Photo courtesy of The Pantages Theater.
In short, The King and I is a musical about Anna Leonowens, an English widow, who moves to Bangkok with her son to tutor the King’s many children and wives. The King and Anna butt heads in the beginning, but by the end of the show end up having deep respect for each other. Here’s what we concluded about the performance:
- The vocals were flawless. Every song was executed so smoothly, like their vocal chords were made of butter. Being able to sing high notes is one thing, but being able to sing high notes so delicately is another craft in itself. I was particularly impressed by Manna Nichols (Tuptim) and Kavin Panmeechao (Lun Tha) in their song “I Have Dreamed”. What begins as a light song escalades into a powerful duet between two lovers, so masterfully executed by the two performers.
- Our favorite scene: The Small House of Uncle Thomas. Johann and I listened to the original soundtrack before watching the show. I remember both of us saying “WHY IS THERE A 14-MINUTE SONG?!”. It turned out to be a 14-minute ballet, featuring the royal singers and dancers of the palace. I found myself chanting “Go, Eliza, go!”, as Lamae Caparas (Eliza) impressively hopped across the stage on one foot about twenty times. The choreography for this particular scene was unique and culturally stimulating.
- It’s an oldie, but still a goodie. The first Broadway performance of The King and I was in 1951. Times have changed, perceptions of race and ethnicity have changed, and in turn, the show has changed. For the national tour, changes were made to the production to make the show a lot less racist (for lack of better terms). However, I still wouldn’t suggest bringing a friend along to watch this show if they’re not familiar with musical theater and its early shows. It was Josh’s first show, and he loved the performers, but was still offended by the storyline and racism that it entailed.
- I am in love with Laura Michelle Kelly. I got to meet her after the show and the only thing I could muster up was, “You’re so amazing and I want to sing just like you one day.” Her response: “Oh no! You want to sound just like YOU, with your own unique voice!” Okay, best advice ever. But really, watching her on stage is truly inspiring. Even though I was sitting at the back of the theater, I was able to resonate with her character and the compassion she portrayed through playing Anna. Meeting the talented Laura Michelle Kelly.
I guess you can say I enjoyed watching the show. Although we were worried about the pace of the show (knowing that the songs were all so soothing and relaxing compared to contemporary shows), it was engaging and quirky, and surprisingly upbeat in it’s own way.