MNfusion: Brilliant Sets, Voices Tell Story Of Unlikely Friendship In ‘The King And I’

When it comes to musical theater, often times the stories told are those of love.

Usually, these stories feature a pair of individuals immersed in a world of romantic love. Whether they are denying their love for one another or fighting to be together, their desire is at the forefront.

But every now and then, a musical showcases different kind of love.

In the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” that love is one between friends.

For those unfamiliar, “The King and I” tells the story of a British school teacher, Anna, who moves to Siam (Thailand) to teach the royal children about the western world. During her time in the country, she forms an unlikely bond with the King.

Before even hearing an actor’s voice, the opening set of the production is enough to stun the audience.

A backdrop of brilliant orange and red creates a scene of sunset, while a massive ship sails into the middle of the stage.

While future set pieces were not quite as grand, they were still breathtakingly beautiful in the soft, intricate nature of their detail. This can be seen in the shimmering golden curtain that hides scene changes, and the palace columns that create hallways and rooms on stage.

Laura Michelle Kelly, perhaps recognized for her role as Lucy in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” starring Johnny Depp, played an enchanting Anna.

Her patience with her son, her students and the king made her likable, while her frustrations made her relatable. She played a passionate, dedicated Anna.

But more captivating than her characterization of the British school teacher was her voice.

Kelly’s soprano had a clear, crisp tone and fell upon the audience with a lightness not often seen in musical theater. While strong, her voice was never brassy or boisterous — a perfect fit for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s composition.

While Kelly’s voice serenaded the audience, it was Joan Almedilla who stunned them.

Not only did she have a beautiful tone, but she exercised amazing strength with her breath control. Her ability to hold the highest notes at the softest volume left everyone on the edge of their seats. Her rendition of “Something Wonderful” was truly a crowd favorite.

While Jose Llana played a powerful and humorous king, it’s hard to be not to be overshadowed by the adorably comical children playing the prince and princesses.

Rylie Sickles stole the show the moment she ran up to hug Llana’s legs instead of bowing before her king.

Though some never spoke a word, each prince and princess had a very clear and distinct personality.

It’s no surprise that a Rodgers & Hammerstein production has beautiful music. Nor, is it a surprise that the Hennepin Theatre Trust would produce fine talent, but what was a welcome surprise was how positively this decades old story reflected on today’s climate.

Its message of finding common ground, respect and even friendship, with and for those we differ from was an important and relevant idea for all in the theater.

The King and I” open now through March 5. Tickets cost $39 to $145. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Hennepin Theatre Trust online.

More from Katie Fraser
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