Review: ‘King and I’ puts spotlight on orchestra

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”
Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Special to The Herald-Sun

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” is on stage this week at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and appropriately enough, there is a spotlight on the orchestra conductor.

“The King and I” is the classic from the mid-20th century writing duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who also wrote “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.”

“The King and I” is known for its music, like “Getting To Know You,” and the 1956 film adaptation starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr as the King of Siam and the British governess and tutor Anna, respectively. Fans of “The King and I” have associated Brynner and Kerr with the roles for decades, but in this national tour, Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly make the roles their own.

Kelly’s voice is stunningly beautiful, otherwise Llana’s performance would have stolen the show. However Joan Almedilla, too, as Lady Thiang also gives an impressive performance.

Llana conveys humor as the King of Siam in the 1860s encountering challenges and “puzzlement” to his authority. His delivery when he repeats “et cetera” drew increased applause each time on opening night.

Does the story hold up? Not in the sense of a white woman going to Bangkok to tell them what’s what. What about Lady Tiang’s back story? And the other wives of the king? However, we do see some of the pushback from Tuptim (Manna Nichols) who does not want to be a “present” for the King.

What does hold up is the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The traveling orchestra includes conductor Gerald Steichen, associate conductor/synthesizer Tim Laciano, Chiho Saegusa on acoustic bass and Mark O’Kain on drums/percussion. The DPAC orchestra of local musicians include those on violin, viola, cello, flute and piccolo, oboe and English horn, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone and harp.

The music is soaring, lifted up by the voices of Kelly and the rest of the cast. Hearing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work performed live, and well, is a welcome final show of this Broadway season at DPAC. It is on stage through Sunday.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

GO & DO:

WHAT: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I”

WHEN: Through Sunday, June 11

WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center

123 Vivian St., Durham

TICKETS: dpacnc.com