Saturday, April 8, 2017

Day 205 PNC Broadway, King and I- Overcoming Cultural Differences and Finding Friendships

As a child, I loved the movie “The King and I.”  I must admit that I had a crush on the king, Yul Brenner, in the movie, bald head and all!  This is a story of  two people from very different cultures (The King of Siam) and the British schoolteacher (Anna), who’s contentious relationship at first  develops into a  loving friendship.  Initially, their ideas are very polarized because their  worlds could not be  more different but by being open to learn about each other, and  by developing a deep respect for each other, a powerful friendship/love evolves.  “The King and I" is all about  the process of  overcoming cultural differences.

The musical  is based on historical events. It is set in the 1860’s in Bangkok.  The King hires  Anna to  teach his wives and children as part of his plan to modernize his country.  He  realizes that to keep Siam  from becoming a  British territory  he  needs  to  learn more about the western culture.  

Arriving to Siam

Excitement is generated in the opening scene  with a spectacular ship arriving in the port of Bangkok.  As Anna enters this exotic new world, she sings to her son,  "Whistle A Happy Tune"  sharing that, “whenever  ever I am afraid, I hold my head up high, and whistle a happy tune and no one will know I am afraid”.

The interaction between the King and Anna is both tense yet loving  throughout the play, as these two cultures collide.  Anna quickly learns that in Siam, the  King’s subjects bow very low to the ground. She hates this practice where in her words,  everyone “grovels around  the king like toads.”  Her heart melts as  the Siamese children and wives are introduced to her in “The March of Siamese Children”.  Her fondness for the children is expressed  in the  school room as she sings "Getting to Know You". Humorous tension between the King and Anna continues throughout the play  when the  tenacious  strong-willed teacher continues to remind the King that he is not abiding by his promises to provide her with a house as she is instructed to live in the palace. Yet in the second half of the play, Anna teaches the King about courtship as they waltz  together performing,Shall We Dance?".

Anna with the King's children

This  Rogers & Hammerstein musical has a classic  operatic score that is sung so well by Laura Michelle Kelly (Anna) and Jose Llana (King).  The demanding melodic range is beautifully sung by Manna Nichols (Tupim, a slave girl given to the king to be one of his  wives)  in "My Lord and Master", and by  Joan Almedilla (Lady Thiang, the King’s favored wife) in "Something Wonderful".

This musical is also filled with elaborate sets from  a ship yard, to the various rooms in the palace, to gardens and to the theater pavilion with a huge gold Buddha. Ornate costumes fill the  show's second half  during the narration of the play, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”(a Siamese version of the book,“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”). This is preformed as a  Siamese ballet dance.   

I think that I love this play so much because it is about trying to understand  and except the differences in others. The King struggling  with leadership decisions and the modernization of  Siam, puts it so well in one of my favorite songs, "Puzzlement". He  points out that, “There are times when nobody really is sure of what they absolutely know… but it puzzles me that a man  in doubt of what he knows, is willing to  fight to prove that  what he does not know is so."

(“King and I” is part of the PNC Broadway Pittsburgh Series from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust  and runs from April 4th to 9th at the Bendeum Center.  It is also on tour if you missedt in Pittsburgh.) 

Spiritual Reflection  
Think of ways to encourage one another to outburst of love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)

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