Last night was my first time stepping inside the iconic Sydney Opera House. I’ve photographed its exterior from almost every conceivable angle – on the ground, on a boat, 17 levels high at the Shangri La Hotel – but this was my first time going in it. I marvelled at the curved white sails, skipped along the concrete steps, jumped into the Joan Sutherland theatre and found myself… in Thailand.
I’d been invited to review Opera Australia and John Frost’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s enchanting musical The King and I. The theatre lobby and bar had been decorated Siam style (as Thailand was known during the setting of the play), with silk cushions, gold-laced lanterns and one very ornate red throne.
Stepping into the theatre itself was when I was truly transported though. The countdown to curtains up was orchestrated by incense-wielding monks – the theatre even smelt like Siam.
From the opening scene to curtain call the play was a mesmerizing journey into another time and place. The set design was truly impressive – with elephant heads that wrapped the stage, a central throne that glowed, and palace floor that shone as only the most ornate of tiles should. The costumes also caught my eye, with more gold and glitter than I have ever seen on stage before, and, my goodness, Anna’s dresses deserved a stage and standing ovation all of their own. (The size of Anna’s skirt was the butt of several jokes in the play but when she danced it stole the show!)
The cast, of course, were spectacular. Lisa McCune makes an elegant Anna whilst long-term cast mate Teddy Taju Rhodes (they also starred together in Opera Australia’s production of South Pacific) makes a (surprisingly) convincing King of Siam. (“Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.”)
The stand out voice of the night for me though was Jenny Liu as Tuptim. When her cut-glass chords echoed around that supersonic theatre no one dared breathe lest they break the magic spell. During the more well-known songs (and I surprised myself by knowing more of the lyrics than I thought I did) it was a case of the audience humming along and tapping their feet as we got carried away by “Getting To Know You’ and “Shall We Dance.’
I must, of course, mention the children. Casting such a large ensemble of talented little Princes and Princesses can’t have been easy but they all perform their roles perfectly. The choreography for the children’s roles was especially good – recognition of culture, childhood and personality all wrapped up in brilliantly executed moves.
If I was to make one criticism (I’m no theatre critic so this is just my personal observation) I would say the section where the children enacted a western book went on for a little too long. Whilst the choreography was superb I got a little lost in this sub-plot and found myself willing them to get back to the main story.
But that is just a minor observation. Opera Australia have presented a mesmerizing, glittering production of The King and I and what a staggering setting they have chosen to show it in Sydney.
I’ll be trotting around my living room to ‘Shall We Dance’ for the rest of the week. And maybe booking a trip to Thailand too!
My ticket for the event was provided for the purposes of this review. All thoughts, opinions and singing remains my own. For more information or to book visit thekingandimuscial.com.