The King and I: A rant, rave and review

Lindsay Timmington

I would likely not have seen this show had I not been invited by a very gracious, generous friend. But I’m so glad I did, so grateful to have seen a show that I likely would have passed over.  This production is beautiful. It’s a piece of classic musical theatre done in a stunningly simple and simply stunning way.

But first: A RANT

I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to see so many empty seats in the the 1000+ seat theatre. Sure, it was a Wednesday night. Sure, the show has been running for seven months but REALLY? Whole sections were empty and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a travesty. For tickets that cost $150 plus for balcony seats, it seems downright ridiculous not to sell those empty seats at all costs. The box office knows what the house is selling at far enough in advance to throw those tickets on TodayTix, or provide a lottery or DO SOMETHING to put butts in seats and furthermore to put butts in seats that can’t afford the exorbitant ticket price of a Broadway show. Let’s bring theatre back to the masses, fill the seats and breathe a little life into a slowly dying art.

I had the extreme displeasure of sitting next to a family of five young women and their mother. At first, my seat mate seemed to understand the expectations of theatre-going until this particular young lady (and I’m loathe to bequeath her that title) pulled out from under her seat, a package of BUNCHA CRUNCH and the most crinkly water bottle to ever come out of a water bottle production line. She proceed to alternate between munching her crunch and squeezing her bottle til I felt like giving her a lil’ ol’ neck a big ol’ squeeze.  Finally sated, she then decided it was time to strike up a conversation with her sisters while doing the mamba in her seat seemingly “in time” to the music. Later, she attempted to audition for the show by singing along with Mrs. Anna, dancing along with Eliza during the Uncle Tom dance sequence and I AM TELLING YOU AT THIS POINT I WAS TRYING HARD, TRYING REALLY REALLY HARD NOT TO SMACK A BITCH BUT DON’T ACT LIKE A PUPPY WHO NEEDS HOUSEBREAKING AT A THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE, OKAY?! Besides, if I can’t bring my $87 glass of Little Penguin chardonnay into the theatre I do not think you should be able to bring you movie theatre concessions and environmentally unfriendly water bottle to your seat either. 

*Deep Breath

Part Two: A REVIEW

I’d never been in this part of Lincoln Center, and it’s definitely a cavernous, modern production facility. The scene design for this particular production was ornate but simple and breathtakingly beautiful. Sitting in the third row of the balcony at center stage, I loved being able to peer down to the pit orchestra and was delighted that a deliberate choice was made to prominently feature the pit orchestra during the overture. The musicians and music director were given their due time and as the orchestra wrapped up the opening, the stage moved forward, covering the pit and drawing your eye to a larger than life ship delivering Mrs. Anna and her son to the world of Siam. 

But that was it, that was the only “Broadway” spectacle to accompany this show. They got it out of the way tout de suite, wow’d us and then let the music, story and talented cast tell the story.  Honestly, while The King and I is not my favorite book or score I absolutely loved this revival and think it’s a show worth seeing for a number of reasons. 

1. Kelli O’Hara

2. Kelli O’ Hara

3. Kelli O’Hara

Just kidding. 

But SHE IS the number one reason to see this show. Hands down. More on that in PART 3: A RAVE.

Go see The King and I for the exquisitely staged and performed “Shall We Dance” that will bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened critics. See The King and I for Ruthie Ann Miles’s heartbreaking portrayal of Lady Thiang—(and I was a tough critic here—I was, after all,  pulling for Sydney Lucas to win the Tony Award for supporting actress in a musical) but damn, Ruthie Ann Miles, DAMN. This girl found a dimensionality to a character I didn’t know existed and that voice-that voice will give you chills. 

See The King and I for the new king, Hoon Lee, who made me snort in a disgustingly undesirable way with his subtle humor and comedic portrayal of the character of the King of Siam. Go see The King and I for the ridiculously adorable children who knew how to stop the show and trigger an ache in my ovaries with their cuteness but also how to shut the heck up and be part of the brilliant and meticulous staging. (Looking at you, Buncha Crunch, looking at you!)  Get to Lincoln Center to see The King and I for the smart dialogue that is more than space filler between songs and is brilliantly acted by a triple threat cast. 

Finally, go see The King and I to support the brave director who didn’t stoop to fireworks and helicopters and flying carpets onstage to hold up a story but let an immense empty stage and a cast of 1,489 people be the set, story and storytellers in a simple and breathtaking way.  

Finally: A RAVE

I’ve never seen Kelli O’Hara onstage. I’ve heard of her, listened to her beautiful singing voice and know how well respected and loved she is in the community but dear God, after seeing her onstage, I’m on the O’Hara bandwagon big time.

Here’s why. I’ve seen a number of shows on Broadway that need to close. That have been running too long, that feel rote and mechanical and phoned in. I’ve no doubt that eight performances a week multiplied by seven months to a year to two years to three years to Chicago will tire an actor endlessly, but here’s the thing—it’s an actor’s job not to appear tired. It’s your job to convince the audience that this is the very first time you’re telling this story and they’re the very first audience to be privy to this piece of work and that is the beauty of live theatre and that is the privilege you have as a working actor. That is a privilege that millions of other people would like to have SO HONOR THAT. Kelli O’Hara is a beautiful example of this. She performed for this audience of a less than a desirable number as if it was opening night.