A few months ago, I was driving with my husband as we passed one of my favorite landmarks in Chicago, the Civic Opera House, home to Lyric Opera of Chicago. As soon as I saw the words The King and I hanging from the side of the building I shrieked! “Chris, we have to go see The King and I! Please! Please!”
My husband is not one for the theater, I must admit. There are countless Broadway plays that during intermission I have had to explain that “no, the play is not finished” to him. I mean how does one think that Wicked is finished at intermission?! Elphaba and Glinda haven’t even become friends at that point! Last year, he surprised me with tickets to opening night at Lyric for my favorite opera, Madama Butterfly, the Puccini classic. He fell asleep during the first five minutes, I couldn’t believe it!
With that being said, my husband, despite his aversion for the performing arts, has supported my affinity for musicals, plays, and operas over the years, and for that I am thankful. Although it had been months since I first mentioned The King and I to him, to my surprise, on my birthday in late April, I opened my birthday card from him, and there were two tickets to the opening weekend of Rodger and Hammerstein’s The King and I at Lyric Opera. I was absolutely delighted; he knows the way to my heart.
For the fourth year in a row, Lyric Opera is presenting The King and I. This past Saturday, we attended the opening weekend for the play. I have a fondness for this particular classic; growing up it was one of my favorites and I even had one line in my eighth grade class performance. I could only imagine watching Anna and the King dance across the almost 100-year-old stage.
The play was a spot-on interpretation of the classic. From what I could remember about the play, everything was as I had imagined. Kate Baldwin, who played the role of Anna, and Paola Montolban, who played the role of King, had an undeniable chemistry on stage. The musical was just, if not more beautiful as I had remembered, with Lyric’s orchestra delivering the most euphonious music to the audience imaginable. Baldwin and Montolban both sang and danced wonderfully, and did an excellent job enamoring the crowd with their on stage romance.
What really made this performance truly incredible though, were the other wonderful supporting characters in the play, among them the children. In the play, the King has many children from different concubines within his palace, though the only one I really remembered was his eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, heir to the throne. Growing up, I only noticed him as having a prominent role amongst the children. But in this performance, not only were the children more than just present, they absolutely shined as equals to the other actors in the play. All 14 royal children were impeccable with their audience engagement, comedic timing, and lines alike, not to mention they were absolutely adorable. The costumes were simply stunning all around, but I must say that the children just looked divine in their elaborate Siamese silk dressings.
Finally, while Anna and the King did a fine job with their performances, I must admit that the true showstopper was Ali Ewoldt, who played Tuptim, the slave girl gifted to the King, who is in love with another slave boy. While the play is of course predominately about Anna and the King’s love story, Ewoldt’s portrayal of the love story between Tuptim and her secret lover Lun Tha was incredible. Her voice is not only beautiful, but it evokes the sincere emotion of someone who is utterly heartbroken. Ewoldt’s perfect portrayal of the story of two star-crossed lovers, was arguably the true love story within this classic play at Lyric.
The King and I will be showing at Lyric until May 22nd. A perfect performance for the young and the old, this timeless classic is given the perfect backdrop at the Civic Opera House, so make sure to see it!