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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre unveils new ‘The King and I’ production

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"The King and I" at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

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Almost everyone loves a musical. And Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” always brings anticipation to those who plan to see it. The story, the costumes, the arguments between Anna and the King of Siam, plus the culminating. much anticipated polka, “Shall We Dance” never fails to bring smiles to the audience.

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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The King and I,” opened Saturday night, June 8, to a packed house and lots of anticipation. The show runs Wednesdays through Sundays until June 22. Because of the space needed for production, seating has been reduced in the auditorium and those wishing to see will need to call ahead and secure seats before traveling to the theater.

Make no mistake, this is the musical theater version of the show, and not the movie musical of the same name. Those expecting to see Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr will must see those noted performers. Nor, will the music sound the same. Audiences need to attend with an open mind and realize this is a local production of a massive and well-known Broadway production and a more well-known movie .

For this show, Karen Paisley, as director, said she cut several small parts (a few wives and several children) to pare down the musical extravaganza. Expect to hear all the great music from the show, and see very different actors portraying the characters.

The staging of the show overcame many of the challenges of such a lavish production. Still, the performance just feels too cloistered for the story. There was difficulty watching the action taking place in front of the audience and the also seeing the reactions to the side of center stage. This gave the production a disjointed feel.

Having the orchestra located outside of the performance. Also created a few minuscule problems. At several times the actors were ahead of or slightly behind the musical accompaniment. Those slight errors are technical problems that can be ironed out in subsequent performances.

The Sunday matinee performance that was viewed for review purposes did not have consistent energy to push the show to heights normally expected at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. Their productions are always crisp, well cast, well directed, and well presented. That particular performance just did not ignite, but it’s still a good show and enjoyable.

In spite of the problems aforementioned, give lots of credit to Karen Paisley for undertaking such a monumental task as presenting “The King and I.” Paisley works hard and dedicates herself completely to see that all details are correct. She designs many of sets; she directs many pieces; and also stars in productions that particularly appeal to her. “The King and I” presented Paisley with the opportunity to both direct and star in a piece which she holds dear.

Stellar performances in this production come from the two younger love interests. Matthew King and Megan Herrera both stand out as Lun Tha and Tuptim, young lovers separated by the vanity and traditional role of kings’ servants. It is their two songs that bring the heart to this production. They sing, “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed.” Their duets are the best of the production.

In a departure from his normal comedy parts, Tony Beasley gave a very strong and forceful performance as the King’s right-hand man, the Kralahome. The scenes between Beasley and Paisley displayed the strength and power of both of their characters. Paisley’s strong-willed Anna conflicts directly and consistently with Beasley’s part as the king’s second in command.

Another good performance comes from Kami Rogers and Lady Thiang whose beautifully voiced solo, “This is a Man,” brings understanding to the relationship of the King and his wives.

The part of the king presented a challenge to Mykel Hill who had to find a way to put his stamp on the so well-known performance of Yul Brenner. Hill’s King of Siam is strong and his performance is good. At times he’s stronger than Paisley’s Anna, and at times weaker. The two vie for power and never seem to be equal. Paisley’s performance is a strong character from start to finish. The subtle nuances of the Anna’s vulnerability could be enhanced.

The costumes, from Kansas City Costume are sumptuous and lavish. Anna dresses like the diva expected and the king looks majestic. So too, do the balance of the cast. The investment in costumes certainly adds to the enjoyment of the show. Also, the choreography of Matthew King needs noting. It’s not just the “Shall We Dance” number, but all the musical numbers and the movement of the lesser characters that glue the piece together.

The set, necessarily small to give center space for the predominant action give the illusion of the King’s palace and courtyard. It’s a great use of small space.

The King and I” continues at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in mid-town, Kansas City through June 22. Shows run Wed.-Sunday. Tickets and more information are available at the theater website: www.metkc.org

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