Sunday, August 19, 2007

Watching The King and I in the Durian in Singapore

Last Friday evening, I watched the stage performance of The King and I at the Esplanade Theatre on the Bay (the Durian). I have been looking forward to watching this stage play the whole month. I have enjoyed the movie version and am now eager to watch a live stage performance. This musical is based on a true story and is also based on a novel by Margaret Landon, Anna and the King of Siam. Landon based her novel on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, a 19th century Englishwoman who became governess to the children of the King of Siam.

The musical was a Rodgers and Hammerstein's production with memorable songs like "Shall we dance?", "Hello, Young Lovers", and "I Have Dreamed." The King and I opened on Broadway on March 29. 1951, where it was shown for three years (1,246 performances). It received five Tony Awards.
In 1956, The King and I musical movie was released starring Deborah Kerr as Anna and Yul Brynner (who stared as the King on Broadway) reprising his role as the King. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and received five. In Singapore, Anna was played by Brianna Borger and King Mongkut of Siam by Paul Nakauchi.

While enjoying the wonderful music and lyrics, the fascinating backdrops, the exciting choreography and the wonderful cast, it was the story of the King of Siam that fascinates me. Here is a man who realises that his country is in danger of being made into a protectorate by the British and tries his best to bring his country into the 'scientific' modern age. Hence he employs an English woman as a school teacher to his children. He realises that education is the key to the survival of his country and his family. Yet this also means betraying his culture and tradition by adopting a "western" approach. The clash of civilization is at times both hilarious and sad.

The King is tormented by inner struggles as he wrestled to be a good King, a good Buddhist, a good husband (to many wives) and a good father. In his struggles, his humanity comes out clearly as he struggles between compassion and duty. I cannot help but identify with him in his pride, his pain and his loss. Clearly this is a great man who struggles to be human, to be a good man in circumstances that would not allow him to be so.

Paul Nakauchi performs superbly as the KING but it is difficult to fill in the shoes left behind by Yul Brynner.

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Blogger pearlie said...

Wonderful. I love musicals. However, I would be reluctant to go watch these classics. Don't really fully understand why - maybe I just did not want anything else to intrude into the good-ol classics which are all firmly and eternally imprinted in my mind. I did not go watch the Sound of Music the last time it was in KL because I guess to me there is just ONE Sound of Music, which I think I have watched a hundred times and know all the songs by hard (only to have Gwen Stafani spoil one of it!!!). This Maria just isn't Maria :) And this King just isn't THE King!

7:38 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi pearlie,

I understand how you feel. Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music, Yul Brynner as the King will always be how I remember these musicals.

However I want to experience a different version of the musical- a real life performance. I try to stop myself from comparing and after a few minutes, I was able to enjoy myself. One thing I discover was the matter of perspective.

In the Hollywood version, they downplay the love relationship between the King and Anna while in the stage performance, they seem to do the opposite. I wonder whether it is a modern interpretation or it has been there all along. In the 1950s, it may not be acceptable for a white woman to fall for a non-white man, even if he is a king.

11:12 PM  
Blogger pearlie said...

I see your point but it will be so hard for me to try to stop myself from comparing!

Which is also why I usually read the book first before watching any bestsellers made into movies. I guess I prefer reading to warching :)

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, ive watched this musical at Istana Budaya last month. At first, I also had the same perception as the posters above, reluctant to go as i always believe original versions are always the best, but as i stepped in to the theatre, the opulent backdrops and settings instantly drew my breath away. The scores were sang beautifully, backed by a 28-piece orchestra, the choreography of the cast was in perfect coordination, and the engaging plots gave me goosebumps, which i cant get from the 1956 movie alone (except for the Uncle Tom’s Cabin ballet) I was very much awed. The whole world class production was just magnificent. Paul Nakauchi was the biggest surprise of the show, i doubted his ability to handle a role with such intimidating predecessor after first glance of the large poster in d waiting hall, yet he proved me wrong with his different interpretation of the King, less stern and imperious, and stunning vocals that Yul Brynner didnt have. I love musicals n stage shows, they give the instant impact of emotions. So why not give it a try to a whole new experience of live performance? =)

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the show at the esplanade as well and I really enjoyed it very much (so much so I watched it twice). I only watched the film version a bit and didn't like it at all because of the way Mongkut was portrayed. Thankfully the Paul Nakauchi's is different.
I don't like the ballet part though, I was wishing I can just fast forward that part *lol*.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi lee,

I agree with your observations. Very good observations and reservations too. I too have my doubts about Paul Nakauchi initially but he surprised me.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi aika,

you watched the show at the esplanade twice! Wow. A true fan. Did you watch Les Miserabes when it was staged at the harbourfront theatre?

7:27 PM  

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