Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera's "The King and I" is a lavish production that examines some very deep philosophical subjects in a light and cheery manner. The curtain rises on a schooner unloading Anna and her son Louis' trunks in Bangkok in the early 1860's. The background is a skyline of Oriental buildings and the topics of the day are slavery and religious philosophy.
Anna, the new English teacher of the King's children, is met by the King's men. Everything about the culture is obedience. When the men approach, she is scared. She "Whistles a Happy Tune" to overcome her fears. Phra Alack claps and the men fall to the ground with their faces to the floor. Anna complains to him that she has been promised a house, but now she is being taken to the palace. Grant Rosen's Phra Alack is a commanding presence as he tells her "In a foreign country it's best you like everyone until you have left."
A scrim creates a street with oriental gargoyles against buildings, as brightly colored dancing girls cavort. We move to the beautiful interior of the palace. The King sits cross legged as Tuptim is carried in on a litter. She is a gift from the King of Burma.
Dale Kristien's Anna is tart, sassy, and pushy. The King tells her she's part of his general plan to bring the best of Western culture to Siam. When she rails about Tuptim and slavery in general, the King announces that he's against slavery, too, claps, and all of his subjects prostrate themselves on the floor. He dismisses Anna and tells her to talk to the women. They call her sir. When she asks why, they say she's scientific, and not lowly like women. She then meets the King's children in "The March of the Siamese children."
A bas relief wall depicts elephants and warriors, etc. Monks walk past as the King sings "A Puzzlement." Victor Talmadge wants to be a good king, but something is just not right. He calls on Buddha to show him the way and wistfully contemplates that every day he does his best for one more day.
In the geography lesson the King is depicted as The Lord of Light, while the King of Burma is so poor that he has no clothes. Anna teaches how small everyone is, and is appalled when the King calls her his servant. It's sort of humorous to hear an English woman on a diatribe against monarchy. She rails against polygamy, and says that in Wales "Men like you are in county jails."
Word has come that the British regard the King as a barbarian, and are considering making Siam a protectorate. Anna agrees to help the King as fireworks announce the arrival of the British. The children and women's choruses, along with monks at the back, pray to Buddha with the King and Anna, for the preservation of the Kingdom against the British.
Act 2 opens with the women in brightly colored European dresses. They are taking a crash course in English culture to convince them that they are not barbarians. Sir Edward Ramsey and Anna were lovers once, but when he tries to rekindle it, she wants none of it. This is about overcoming obstacles. Tuptim and Lun Tha are going to secretly run away after the play. They are in love, but she is the King's slave.
At the theater the play begins. The ballet "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and it's outrageously funny, with the deadly twist of an escaped slave tracked by Evil Master, Simon of Legree with his scientific dogs. They track Eliza as she makes her escape from the Kingdom of Kentucky to the town of Canada. When she comes to the river, Buddha makes a miracle and freezes it so she can walk across. When Simon of Legree crosses, Buddha melts it and they are carried away as Eliza is reunited with George and the rest of the good people.
In the "Song of the King," he gives his ring to Anna. She is overcome and doesn't know what to say. He responds that when one doesn't know what to say, it's time to be silent. They celebrate in "Shall We Dance?" as they fly around the stage. They reveal their love, before the shattering entrance of Tuptim, that sweeps us to the tumultuous climax. It's a bittersweet finale as the kingdom makes significant, but incremental progress in the recognition of human rights.
This is a strong cast from top to bottom, with Kerry Walsh standing out as Lady Thiang, and Joowon Roh and Enrique Acevedo as the lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha. Elise Unruh leads the orchestra in this magnificent production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I" by The Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera.