Contributor: Bayu Wardana (@bayuwardana)
On November 21, 2019, I got the opportunity to watch London School of Public Relations Teatro’s 18thproduction, the legendary 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I. The show was revived in 2015 at the Lincoln Center, spearheaded by Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe as Anna Leonowens and the King of Siamrespectively. Later in 2018 both stars returned to their roles and brought the show to the London Palladium. Knowing that the show is such a classic, and having heard good words about LSPR Teatro’s previous productions, to say that I was excited to see this show would be an understatement.
Rainy weather and unfamiliar location made me decide to come extra prepared – as prepared as coming an hour before the open gate schedule. When I arrived at the registration desk, I was amazed with the warm welcome from a very friendly committee member. An usher guided me to the transit room for VIP guests. In the VIP transit room I was welcomed by Justine the Asst. Production Manager who sat me down in a chair to enjoy the food and drinks provided while waiting for the show to start. This was a new experience for me to get services like this, even when buying tickets for the VIP class. I feel like The King of Siam!
The door opened at 6.30 PM, I entered The Amani Palladium Theater. The first few things I noticed were venues and stages smaller than I imagined. Interestingly, there are official posters from some musical broadways that may have been produced by LSPR Teatro displayed on the back wall of the venue. Many of the audience seats were empty and only increased slightly when the show began at around 7PM. The set that was on the stage before the curtain opened just looks like a big gate with quite artistic ornamentation. On the right side, there are several standing microphones and chairs. Looks like Pitt Singers are placed there. There were no musical instruments on display around the stage, so I guess tonight’s show isn’t live.
I have never watched any stage production of The King And I before, but I’ve seen the Hollywood movie version, Anna and The King (1999) and it instantly became one of my favorite historical films. During the trip to LSPR campus I googled the plot from The King And I and was more or less the same as the Hollywood version which tells about Anna Leonowens coming to Siam with her son as a governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. I enjoyed watching the performance of LSPR Teatro. The acting skills of each cast, ensembles, and dancers are impressive. I was carried away by an atmosphere that was successfully built. Smiling when the scene of King Mongkut communicating with Anna using “etc-etc-etc”, laughing when Anna and Louis together with the king’s children and Lady Thiang, sad when Tuptim and Lun Tha sang I Have Dreamed, and disgusted with Kralahome. I was impressed with the singing ability of the pitt singers and the dancing ability of the dancers when the Small House of Uncle Thomas in Act 2. They were very deep into the song which is thick with Siamese ballet and distinctive singing techniques. There is nothing negative that I can find from the performers.
The set and décor used in this production is not too complicated. LSPR Teatro only uses a large enough Buddha statue which in the next scene can be played as the King’s throne. The game of lights is also very minimalist but is able to support the mood that is to be built, such as when the monks and king’s children line the streets. Once again, I discussed when Small House of Uncle Thomas happened at the beginning of Act 2, because many elements were able to surprise me: astonishing skills of the performers, magical lighting, not to mention the costumes that were totally different from act 1. The costume crew used the rocks that sparkled when exposed to the lights of the dancers’ clothes were able to make me scream in my heart.
Something disturbed me a little while watching was technical problems. Often there are disturbances in the sound system such as the sound of the breath of the cast and the sound of thumping several times out of nowhere. Then what struck me as a problem in every show that required the use of Victorian-era costumes was somehow not elegant, like the one used by Anna Leonowens, although my attention was diverted by how good the acting and singing skills of Cantika Citra Alisa were. The duration they need when the lights are turned off and the man in black works and then goes back on is also quite long because as far as I know the time usually takes only about 10 seconds. The shorter the better.
LSPR Teatro production – The King and I on opening night was captivating. As a person who has never seen their show before as well as the the first experience watching The King And I, LSPR Teatro was able to enchant me during the show with good execution and succeeded in making me download the playlist of The King And I on Spotify. For the next production, it would be better if held in a venue that is easily accessed by theatergoers. Maybe this is one of the causes of many empty seats, besides other reasons such as the weather and weekdays.
Can’t wait for the next production of LSPR Teatro next year which will definitely be very exciting!