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The Theatreguide.London Review

The King and I
Royal Albert Hall      June 2009

This Raymond Gubbay-produced spectacular sets the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in the round, in the round Royal Albert Hall.

Subtlety of acting and lightness of touch are inevitably out of the question, but there are lovely costumes and sets, all the great songs are there, and this show will attract and satisfy audiences who may ironically be more at ease in a concert hall than in a theatre.

Stars Daniel Dae Kim and Maria Friedman give solid performances within the limits imposed on them by the broad staging.

Friedman is an excellent singing actress, and draws all the drama out of songs like 'Hello Young Lovers', while Kim is satisfyingly manly, even if he can't do much with the soliloquy 'Is A Puzzlement.'

And while I may have seen 'Shall We Dance' performed with more irresistible energy - and it really should be a heart-stopping experience, one of the iconic moments in the history of the Broadway musical - I'm not sure I've sensed the reluctant sexual energy between the two characters as acutely as Kim and Friedman register it.

Elsewhere, there's The March of the Siamese Children with a dozen or more satisfyingly adorable kids, and there's Jee Hyun Lim as Lady Thiang, daring you not to get misty-eyed at 'Something Wonderful.'

Ethan Le Phong and Yanle Zhong are attractive as the doomed young lovers, he singing somewhat more successfully than she.

Director Jeremy Sams gets people on and off stage efficiently, which is about all that can be asked, and Susan Kikuchi's choreography salutes Jerome Robbins' original staging, particularly in The Small House of Uncle Thomas. Gareth Valentine leads the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

One more thing deserves mention. Those who saw the last Gubbay-produced musical in this venue, 2006's Show Boat, will remember how clumsy the sound engineering was, with all the voices booming out from an undifferentiated Somewhere Up There, so you had to search the stage to see who was speaking or singing.

So all praise to sound engineer Bobby Aitkin for redesigning the amplification so that you actually do get the impression the sounds you hear are coming from the performer's mouth.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The King And I - Royal Albert Hall 2009