Shall we dance?
How can London resist such an invitation, especially when it being made by two huge stars.
The celebrated, Tony award-winning adaptation waltzes into the West End with Oscar-nominated Ken Watanabe as the grumpy Siamese monarch and Kelli-O’Hara as the feisty British governess, Anna Leonowens.
O’Hara actually won a Tony, after six previous nominations, in 2015 for this celebrated production which proved there is still a space for the grand and glorious musicals of the past.
New York and London may ring with the very modern sounds of Book of Mormon, Hamilton and Everyone Loves Jamie but this latest revival doesn’t just come laden with crowd-pleasing iconic songs, lavish sets and megawatt star power, it also continues to shine a light on very human issues which are as relevant today as half a century ago.
The legendary Rogers and Hammerstein musical opened on Broadway in 1951 and made a huge star of the equally legendary Yul Brynner, who performed the show 4,625 times and bagged an Oscar for the 1956 big screen version.
How can Watanabe escape such a shadow?
The star of The Last Samurai, Batman Begins and Inception admitted he was a hard sell for the show’s director Bartlett Sher when he was approached to do the part.
He declared he had no interest in such a role and told Sher: “I don’t like musicals. I said I don’t want to do singing or dancing.”
Luckily for all concerned, this is the most famous role in any musical that doesn’t require any great ability at either.
His leading lady was already this decade’s queen of Broadway and had dazzled as Nellie in South Pacific. Shockingly, she too had reservations about the role, but for the opposite reason.
Despite an array of show-stopping and iconic numbers for Anna like Getting To Know You, Shall We Dance and Hello Young Lovers, O’Hara is frank that she didn’t take the part to show off her abilities since the famous score doesn’t actually allow her impressive soprano its full range.
She said: “As the women become older and brassier, the parts become lower. This is lower than my comfort zone. Do I wish that she went off and and sang an aria? Yes. But I want to play the role so I make myself do it.”
The acclaimed performer has sung with The Metropolitan Opera, so her comments are understandable, even they undersell quite how magnificent and spine-tingling she sounds in this role.
Sher said with hesitation: “She has absolutely the best voice on Broadway”
The latest revival also revels in the show’s remarkably relevant concerns with patriarchy, female and racial oppression and the issues of education.
O’Hara added that she had researched the original diaries of the real-life Anna Leonowens: “I know why she fights, I know why’s stubborn and why she’s desperate.”
Lucky London audiences may find they leave the theatre with their hearts and heads ringing.
The King & I at the London Palladium: previews from June 21, opening night July 3 and booking to September 29.
For tickets, dates and more information go to: http://thelondonpalladium.co.uk/