Review: The King and I (Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago)

     
     

Getting to love you

     
     

Brianna-Borger and Wayne Hu

  
Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago presents
  
The King and I
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Music Directed by Eugene Dizon
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

L. Walter Stearns’ final staging for Porchlight Music Theatre (he’s moving on to manage the Mercury Theatre) is a splendid swan song. Efficient but never merely dutiful, this tender-loving revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 treasure lets the talent on this stage honor the brilliance on the page. Despite lacking the budgets of Marriott Theatre’s 2000 revival or the most recent one at Drury Lane Oakbrook in 2007, Porchlight never allows less to be lacking.

Erik Kaiko as Lun Tha and Jillian Jocson as Tuptim - King and IBesides, look at what they’re working with! It’s rewarding how much the R & H musicals amplify each other, yielding a whole much bigger than its parts. In The King and I we see a British schoolteacher who changes the children around her and shapes the future through her enlightened tutelage of the Crown Prince of Siam. Anna Leonowens anticipates Maria Von Trapp, an Austrian governess who changes the children and around and escapes the present to pursue the sound of music. Likewise, Flower Drum Song carefully chronicles the cultural changes in a community. Above all, like South Pacific, King and I delivers an action lesson in tolerance. Anna and the King learn from each pother, he forbearance and humility before the facts of life, love and death, she the discipline and tradition required to keep a nation together and, more importantly, unconquered.

The closest comparison outside the R & H canon is, interestingly, Fiddler on the Roof: Both musicals deal with central characters coping with change during convulsive historical periods, desperate to preserve tradition (and power) while wryly accepting the future, as much on their terms as possible.

The King’s transformation (and, by implication, that of Siam) is accomplished in stunning songs like “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” that win us over from the first note. Well worth the succession from Gertrude Lawrence to Deborah Kerr to Donna Murphy, Brianna Borger’s warmly engaging Anna brings quicksilver resilience and five different kinds of love to her widow, mother, tutor, confidante and lover. Her patter songs, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?,” crackles with contagious indignation and hard-core spunk. The first Asian I’ve seen playing the King, burly Wayne Hu stamps the King with wizard timing, wry irascibility and bedrock dignity. The fact that he’s no infallible leader only makes his aspirations to authority more poignant and less threatening.

It’s impossible to overpraise Jillian Anne Jocson’s lovely and lyrical Tuptim, enchanting in “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in Shadow” with ardent Erik Kaiko as her doomed beloved, or Kate Garassino’s elegant Lady Thiang, wisdom wrapped in reticence. The Siamese wives and children (here reduced to six) are marvels of grace in energy and as comely as a palace frieze. Likewise Bill Morey’s elaborate Eastern costumes, their shimmering and sumptuous fabrics lit by Mac Vaughey with what must be new colors, and Ian Zywica’s unit set with its Oriental throne room, filigreed archways, and burnished floor. (Flanking the king are dualistic symbols of East and West—a chess set and a statue of the Buddha.) Brenda Didier’s choreography, faithful to Jerome Robbins, turns “‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ Ballet” into a cascade of astonishment and artful reinvention.

For purists like me there’s one cavil: This revival’s two-piano accompaniment, however beautifully played by Eugene Dizon and Allison Hendrix, is nonetheless a letdown, robbing the songs of the rich orchestrations Rodgers intended. Less crucial, the delightful scene in which the ladies of the court try to maneuver inside European crinoline ballgowns and corsets is necessarily omitted. But new to me is the royal school’s anthem sung by Anna and her princely pupils, as well as a charming reprise of “A Puzzlement” sung by the sons of the principals that extends the cultural clash to the next generation. You win some, you lose some.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brianna Borger, Dylan Lainez, Tatum Pearlman, Lydia Hurrelbrink

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Review: Some Enchanted Evening (Theo Ubique Theatre)

  
  

Update: Now extended through July 3rd!

More American than apple pie!

  
  

Austin Cook, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre - Some Enchanted Evening

  
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
    
Some Enchanted Evening:
  The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein

          

Directed by Fred Anzevino
Music Directed by Austin Cook
at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $25-$30 (dinner: $20)  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

The purest patriotism possible in this troubled land is just to love the subject of this show. The beautiful Broadway created by Rodgers and Hammerstein is broad indeed, and a way to everything that’s (still) good about America. We can enjoy the optimism of Oklahoma, dangerous ambition of Carousel, courage and tolerance of South Pacific, family values of State Fair, curiosity and growth of The King and I, assimilation of Flower Drum Song, and, well, the love of singing in The Sound of Music.  It’s there in melodies (Rodgers) you could get drunk on and lyrics (Hammerstein) that feel good because they’re just true.

Danni Smith and Austin Cook - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre - Some Enchanted Evening, Songs of Rogers and HammersteinFramed as a rehearsal that turns into a performance, Fred Anzevino’s generous, two-hour tribute to R&H’s glorious Americana showcases five splendid singers flawlessly directed by musical director and pianist Austin Cook. The uncredited compilation offers clever to sumptuous arrangements in a program that lets the songs talk to each other almost as much as they resonate with an equally impassioned audience. We grew up with these songs until they’re now part of our emotional DNA.

At the same time, you’ve never imagined “Maria” as a possible love song about a relationship, not a complaint by nuns, but it works well here. (Less so is the unnecessarily jazzed-up backdrop to “Something Wonderful.”) A few discoveries offer less-known confirmation of the partners’ mastery, like the winsome “A Fellow Needs a Girl” and the sardonic lament “The Gentleman Is a Dope” (Rodgers’ later sequel to “The Lady Is a Tramp”?).

So many favorites are included that it’s easier to mention the ones that aren’t (the power anthems “Climb Every Mountain” and “You’ll Never Walk Along” and my favorite ballad, “What’s the Use of Won’drin’?”). What made the cut, however, is perfection enough, especially as sung by a soaring soprano and euphoric belter like Sarah Schoch, who gives “A Wonderful Guy” a fitting sweep and scope. Dana Tretta is a wicked comedienne in “I Can’t Say No” and a wistful lover in “I Have Dreamed.” Danni Smith brings star quality to the fragile “Love, Look Away” and raw nostalgia and tensile heartbreak to “Hello, Young Lovers.”

     
Danni Smith, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre Austin Cook, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta, Jeremy Trager - Theo-Ubique Theatre
Some Enchated Evening ensemble - Theo-Ubique Cabaret 3 Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta, Austin Cook, Jeremy Trager Danni Smith and Sara Schoch in 'Some Enchated Evening' - Theo-Ubique Cabaret

Jeremy Trager’s baritone serves him splendidly throughout, never more so than in his driven version of Billy Bigelow’s all-confessing “Soliloquy.” Finally, Evan Tyrone Martin brings a heavenly tenor to “Edelweiss,” a folk song so pure it fits every possible singer, while his tender and haunting take on the little-known “Everybody’s Got a Home But Me” shows how R&H could summon up the blues in spirit if not in note.

Fine as they are, collectively this terrific ensemble turn “Shall We Dance,” “A Grand Night,” “Grant Avenue,” and the seductive title song into harmonious musical gems of a thousand carats each.

Well, the revue’s title says it all. My one complaint is that the whole show should have been a sing-along. But I’ll leave that to “The Messiah.”

  
     
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Austin Cook, Dana Tretta, Jeremy Trager, Danni Smith, Sara Schoch and Evan Tyrone Martin in 'Some Enchanted Evening' - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

All photos by G. Thomas Ward Photography

     
     

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