Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Community Players opened their 2011-12 season Thursday with a smashing production of the venerable Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I. It was a bright, engaging and totally enjoyable performance that had the audience laughing, humming and sighing right along with the large cast.
Set in the late 1800s and based on a real tale, The King and I follows the adventures of a British school teacher hired to educate the royal children at the court of Siam. As Anna Leonowens, Heather Durham was extraordinary. Besides being vocally very strong, she was totally convincing in this multifaceted role
As the King of Siam, Paul M. Ray III brought energy, excitement, and a really winning touch of accented speech to his role as the pompous and slightly insecure ruler. Musically he was totally on target with his rendition of “A Puzzlement” and later completely endearing in his terrific “Shall We Dance” with Anna.
This show is a family affair for the Rays which explains the intriguing similarity between the King and his son, Prince Chulalongkorn played with stern aplomb by Alex Ray. (Lisa Ray is among the wives and Sam Ray is one of the royal children.)
Anna’s son, Louis, played with panache by young Thomas Skellett, prompted many a grin as he sparred mentally with Chulalongkorn. The two were a hoot in a reprised duet of “A Puzzlement”.
Another love affair found Tuptim (Elsa Harchick) and Lun Tha (Shawn Schultz) meeting in the shadows. Tuptim bemoaned being given as a gift to the King with the lovely “My Lord and Master”. Schultz astounded Thursday’s audience with his incredible tenor as he joined Harchick singing “We Kiss In A Shadow”.
An absolute highlight Thursday was the pristine ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”. Danielle Smith’s choreography was stunning. Caroline Wiley danced the role of Emily with precision and flair while Tuptim narrated the unfolding story. This troupe only appeared in this single scene but will leave a lasting impression on all who saw it.
Another strong vocal moment found Lady Thiang (Chaika Stribling) pleading with Anna to understand that even one as frustrating as the King can often do “Something Wonderful”.
Eight colorfully dressed Royal Wives and sixteen Royal Children provided color and charm throughout this story. Kudos must go to director Steven J. Mokofsky for managing to corral and coordinate these impressively populous scenes.
Music director Alissa K. Hetzner conducted an impressive thirteen piece orchestra. Never overpowering, this group of musicians still did justice to these wonderful melodies even to making the Overture and the Entr’acte additional show highlights.
Perhaps the only quirk was the fairly minimal set design. Platforms in subdued gold and bronze dominated, alternating occasionally with a corridor of red velvet panels. One expects something more grand in a Siamese palace.
Ultimately, if this production is a sample of what’s to come from FCP this year, then get your tickets now. It’s going to be a banner year!