The first thing you see is a ship on an ocean of fog. Then the ship breaks apart and its components become parts of a palace's interior. It's hard to explain why it works so well, but it's the first of many visual pleasures in Bartlett Sher's production of The King and I, which is currently touring the country, and which struck me, at its Seattle opening Tuesday night, as seemingly weightless, perfectly cast, and surprisingly relevant.
I went into The King and I with no knowledge of the material—it's one of those musicals I never got around to watching or listening to—but on first listen, I kept thinking: "Ah, this song is about Trump's relationship to facts!" "Ah, this is a song about the stupidity of white racists!" "Oh my god, wow, when was this written?"
It was written in 1951, and it's set in the 1800s. It's a credit to Sher, and to the cast and crew, and to Rodgers and to Hammerstein, that what I was sure was going to be creaky material comes across with freshness and humor and life.
Laura Michelle Kelly, as the Western schoolteacher who comes to Siam at the bidding of the king, sings and acts with warmth and clarity and perfection. Jose Llana, as the king, manages to make all the jokes about megalomania and egocentrism and how those things distort "scientific" thinking (rather than making all the jokes about broken English, which is what I feared the jokes would be about). Llana's lines, and especially his song "A Puzzlement," landed perfectly on the same day Trump instituted a gag order on the EPA and the national parks.
"It's a lot funnier than I thought it would be," said my date, who was good company not just because he knew the material better than I did, and not just because he wore a pocket square in his coat pocket, but because the material excited a lot of thoughts about the current state of the world in his mind, too.
I predict someone in the comments will commence a lecture about how the show is abhorrent or racist or not enough like the movie or too much like the movie the moment I publish this. But for someone who didn't know the material going in (and even had vague dread about what horrors might be packed into what even the New York Times called a "colonialist-minded musical"), I have to say, I loved it. Clarity, lightness, humor, warmth, love, and a bias toward facts and science—the show has everything the real world seems to be lacking right now.