The play opens with a steamboat docking in Siam under a brilliant, reddish sunset.
Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) is helping her son Louis (Graham Montgomery) cope with the new, unfamiliar landscape and consoles him by singing I Whistle a Happy Tune, which is just one of the classic scores that are performed in the show. Local Siam youngsters come to investigate the foreigners. They are curious about the newcomer’s unfamiliar scents as well as Anna’s hooped dress and her son’s strict British suit.
The King of Siam played masterfully by Jose Llana returns to this production and will interweave his authority, his lack of compassion and ultimately his sensitivity through the magic of The King and I.
Jose Llana is a veteran actor and singer. His resume is impressive. His trained voice is melodic and thunderous. We spoke about the numerous revivals of the King and I. Llana explained that this latest production, thanks to Director Bartlett Sher has taken a contemporary shift. Throughout the production Anna the schoolteacher who has been hired by the King to educate his children, will demand women’s rights for the King’s numerous wives. She will also make a mockery of bowing down and being subservient. She demands promises that were made to her which have not yet been fore filled and she will constantly remind the King that she is a school teacher and not one of his slaves.
Llana said, “In this version of the play the audiences will see many parallels in today’s world. The King wants everything done his way. Everyone else is wrong and he is always right. He easily gets rid of any one who opposes him. The King wants to build a large ‘fence’ that will keep everyone out of Siam including the British and the French who have already begun colonizing Siam’s neighboring countries Burma and Vietnam and ultimately want to make Siam a protectorate. The King considers himself almighty. He wants to be scientific and yet many things are ‘a puzzlement’ to him. Everyone in kingdom is afraid of him because he is in fact a tyrant with a trained army loyal to him. He believes in bigamy for himself but certainly not for his concubines or anyone else”. Llana smiled coyly at me when he described his role in this play.
Llana went on to say, “Anna is a stranger and everyone is suspicious of her when she first starts to preform her vocation however as the roles develop, the children learn to love her. In fact when Anna and the King are in the same room his children run to her first much to his surprise.” Llana continued to analyze her role and said, “She is the bridge who will unite Eastern and Western cultures and create a bond between both worlds and especially between herself and the King.”