Review: The King and I, Palladium

So much to like in The King and I at the London Palladium, not least the exquisite costumes and a superb Kelli O’Hara

“Getting to hope you like me…”

Despite my love of a classic musical, it has taken me a wee while to work up the enthusiasm to go and see The King and I at the Palladium. A big Broadway success, Bartlett Sher’s production kept its leads of Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe but with that pedigree comes an element of playing it safe, which is what I think has kept me at bay.

And in watching the show, you can’t ever really escape this feeling of sedateness, splendidly mounted as it is. Catherine Zuber’s costume work is beyond lush, Michael Yeargan’s set has an epic scale and the sweep of Christopher Gattelli’s take on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography is quite often breathtaking – they don’t make em like this any more etc etc.

The epithet also applies to the writing though, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s formal daring from the 1950s doesn’t quite transplant to the 2010s without a sense of awkwardness. Work has been done to redress the balance of the time period from whence it came with contemporary attitudes and you feel it in elements like Lady Thiang’s beefed-up role, and the switch away from colonialism to cultural awareness.

And it is all carried off with a huge deal of professional sheen. O’Hara sounds like a dream, Watanabe is full of character, and Na-Young Jeon and Ruthie Ann Miles both impress. The familiarity of the score swings you through the near three hours without hardly a lull and Stephen Ridley’s musical direction makes it sound so very lush. For all this though, The King and I – in this shape – does feel perilously close to a museum piece, albeit a hugely attractive one.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Matthew Murphy
The King and I is booking at the London Palladium until 29th September

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