Last night I got the pleasure to attend the opening night in Los Angeles of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “King and I.” It’s always amazing to go see theatre, especially the Broadway extravaganzas. You really get to see how creative people can be to tell a story, especially in the set design and how objects move and people flutter sheets but somehow with the richness of the lights, we’re transported to another world. I mean, I’m a Hollywood kid, growing up more in film and television, but you watch a grand theatre production like this you feel the connection, you can see how productions like this a half century ago became movies like “Star Wars” or something like that.
The performances were great, I loved Jose Llana playing the King, it’s great to see Asian American artist working and this production was stacked deep with beautiful and talented Asian actors and dancers. This play is one of those titles that, as a young upcoming actor, who happens to be Asian, everyone would be like, “Someday, you’ll play the King.” As a kid watching the Yul Brynner version from the 50’s, I always related more to the son, the King to be, with doubts of himself. Now, watching it as an adult, I do relate more to the King… who still has his own self doubt.
Beyond the story, it’s interesting to see how artists back in those days, housed the conversation of race relations. I think the first production of this play was 1951, over sixty years ago! And the play takes place, some hundred years before that. Of course the play is about a white person going into a non-white world, teaching them what’s right and wrong or how to do something better… even going as far as having a school teacher, ultimately giving a head of state the advice and practically running International Relations. It’s kind of a funny and ridiculous, yet is probably 90 percent of the story lines of today’s movies in regards to ethnic people… so not much has changed there. Also, things stand out like the King and Anna’s relationship, there are moments written in there, like “Shall We Dance” but ultimately, no real romance, no kiss. I wonder if there was a different version written or how things were back then, if it was even possible to have an interracial relationship. I wonder if it were written today, if something like that would change.
In any case, the show was wonderful, if you’re in LA and you want to see some throwback epic theatre, this is a good one to see. Great songs and dance numbers, some real issues about race relations and slavery are intertwined in the story. It also made me personally think about a Thai girl I used to date, I mean, the place the play takes place in Sia, now known as Thailand. My ex girlfriend would humorously explain the superiority of Thailand over the Philippines, as place that was never conquered and colonized like the Philippines, which I guess I can appreciate… but now, a Filipino is playing you’re King… so, I’ll take that.