Review: The King and I,
Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham

By Gloucestershire Citizen  |  Posted: September 16, 2016
By Jill Bacon

Choreographer: Heather M Newman
Musical Director: David Manifold

Promenade Productions' staging of The King and I was an impressive and memorable experience.
Previous musical shows have demonstrated their skill and professional understanding for the genre and the traditional productions seem to get better and better.

From leading cast members to 'back-room-boys' the team led by husband and wife John Pannett and Heather Newman created a masterly and sumptuous presentation which flowed seamlessly throughout.

Derived from a 1944 novel by Margaret Landon the musical is based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens governess to the children of the King of Siam for six years.

The relationship between the two diametrically opposed protagonists and cultures unfolds through the well-known melodies of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein's emotive but often humorous script.

Set in Siam (modern-day Thailand) in the 1860s its first appearance was on Broadway in 1951. In this current production the costume department created lavish hooped gowns for Anna and towering balance-defying Siamese headdresses with all the glitter and styles of the era.
Evocatively painted backdrops of the palace and Siamese landscapes conjured the exotic orient and transported us to times and lands afar.

The singing from the whole cast was a leap forward. The major characters showed both polished technical ability, clear words and ease in their excellent singing which was infused with passion, sensitivity, warmth and empathy.



 



 

 

 


Olivia Sheldon as Anna was a strong lead, taking an unequivocal stance in her beliefs and standards, outwardly confident and weaving a thread of continuity throughout.
Neal Carter-Lewis gave a brilliant portrayal of an overbearing, controlling, imposing yet soft-centred king. Their duet Shall We Dance? was a real show-stopper as they twirled and sang without seemingly becoming giddy!

The king's solo A Puzzlement was both reflective and pondering Youngsters Connor May as Louis Leonowens and Max Puffett as the Crown Prince expertly recapitulated A Puzzlement in duet version and captured the audience with their singing and consistent acting abilities throughout.

Slave girl Tuptim was close to stealing the show on occasions. Singing clearly and freshly but often tinged with sadness April Perrott's high notes and breath control revealed a high standard of singing suitably matched by her acting ability.

Well done to the 'inner play' of the re-enactment Siamese style of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and the underlying lessons of history and geography in this scene. The Greek-type chorus had a difficult job but accomplished the singing-narrative exceedingly well.

Appealing and fascinating choreography and dance sequences, slick scenery changes and an orchestra to support the solos and duets all added to the rich mix.

We could take away with us not only a myriad of images and songs but many home-spun philosophies and lessons on equality, slavery and different cultures and the message that magnificent teamwork results in magnificent outcomes.

If you missed this production do not miss Sleeping Beauty in January - same venue, more traditional fun in pantomime.

Jill Bacon