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IOWA CITY — 'The King and I' is something wonderful, from the orchestral overture to the bittersweet ending.
The Lincoln Center's 2015 Tony Award-winning revival breathes new life into the classic elegance of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. More than a dozen actors, including Jose Llana as the King, have moved from the Broadway cast to the first national tour, onstage through Saturday at Hancher Auditorium.
Cultures collide and combust with the utmost in beauty and elegance when British teacher Anna Leonowens (Heather Botts) takes her young son, Louis, from their home in Singapore to Siam in the early 1860s. She's been summoned there to bring Western knowledge to the royal household.
From the very beginning, however, she butts heads with the King, who views her as one of his servants, and doesn't know what to make of her demands and defiance. No woman has ever dared speak to him the way she does.
Desperate to keep his country from falling to a foreign power, he needs Anna to educate his favored wives and children, but with change comes pain. Tradition is a source of pride that ripples throughout the kingdom, and Anna and the King must find a way to forge a new future by weaving East with West.
Elements of intrigue and forbidden love are woven through the shadows — not the least of which is an undeniable affection growing between Anna and the King.
All of this plays out in a swirl of hoop skirts and silk robes in vibrant colors under an ever-changing prism of lights, soaring scenery and regal drapes befitting a palace and its gardens.
Catherine Zuber's award-winning costumes are dazzling, especially in the 'Small House of Uncle Thomas' ballet performed to show a British delegation that the King is not a barbarian. The bejeweled masks and headpieces are as stunning as Christopher Gattelli's sharp, fluid choreography, influenced by Jerome Robbins' original works.
Botts and Llana are magnificent in their roles, going head-to-head with rising anger and ardor. As powerful as Llana is when stomping and bellowing, he's even more affecting when glimpses of tenderness shine through when surrounded by his delightful, charming children.
And the music. Every iconic song is a showstopper, from 'I Whistle a Happy Tune' in the opening scene to the joyous bounce of 'Shall We Dance,' the moment where Anna and the King allow their feelings for each other to take hold.
A special bow goes to Q Lim, who played Princess Tuptim on Tuesday's opening night. Her shimmering high notes powered their way ever higher, suspended in the heartbreak of the young woman who was given to the King, but whose heart secretly belongs to Lun Tha, played by Kavin Panmeechao. Their duets of 'We Kiss in a Shadow' and 'I Have Dreamed' are as haunting as they are lovely.
Hancher audiences are in for a royal treat, getting to know this beautiful recreation of a story that bridges time and territories.
[naviga:h3 style="padding-left: 60px;"]IF YOU GO
What: 'The King and I'
Where: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday (American Sign Language interpreter at 1 p.m.)
Tickets: $50 to $95, Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1-800-426-2437 or Hancher.uiowa.edu/2017-18/KingandI
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org