The King and I Review from the Daily Record
Thanks to Dan for this information!

Paper Mill’s ‘King and I’ isn’t quite regal

By Debra Scacciaferro, Daily Record


MILLBURN — Visually stunning, lusciously sung, Paper Mill 
Playhouse’s production of "The King and I" still manages to 
be less than it should be.

Carolee Carmello is terrific as Anna. She’s everything 
director Mark Hoebee said about her: She portrays Anna as 
a warm, mature widow who is not easily thrown, a quiet 
firebrand, loving and patient with her pupils, humorous and 
protective with her son Louis.

Carmello is a skilled actress who possesses a gorgeous 
singing voice that does justice to those lovely songs written 
in 1950 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. 
Those songs just get better and better with time — like fine 
wine. Nobody writes such gorgeous melodies and thrilling 
lyrics anymore.

The story of "The King and I" takes place in 1862 in Siam, 
when English widow Anna Leonowens and her young son 
Louis arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok to serve as tutor 
to the king’s many children and wives.

The king, considered a barbarian by Western officials, 
seeks Anna’s help to change his image, if not his ways. A 
tragic secondary plot concerns young Tuptim, who doesn’t 
want to become the king’s next concubine, and her secret 

I can’t help feeling that Hoebee steered co-star Kevin Gray, 
who plays the King of Siam, down a wrong path. Gray played 
the role on Broadway in the most recent revival. But Hoebee 
told me in a previous interview that Gray was amenable to 
playing it differently here. He’s a strong performer and 
singer, and makes a very sexy king. But in this interpretation, 
which emphasizes the humor, he comes off not so much 
like a spoiled playboy, but at times, a clownish one. I doubt 
that’s what Hoebee was striving for, although it does give 
Gray room to mature in his final scenes.

In fairness, it’s hard to shake the image of Yul Brynner’s 
stern but benevolent original interpretation of the role. Gray’s 
comedy works at times, when he is tweaking Mrs. Anna’s 
expectations of him and the chemistry starts to spark 
between them. And especially when he is indulging his 
absolutely adorable "royal children," of which he boasts 77 
(he got a late start).

And oh, are those little children adorable, especially the 
youngest ones, who steal the show every night. You can 
hear every female sighing "ahhh" up and down the house 
as each one prostrates himself or herself before the king 
and Mrs. Anna.

But Gray’s interpretation also upsets the careful balance of 
the relationship between himself and Anna, putting her in 
the unintended position of appearing mostly to be humoring 
this "barbaric" king and the childlike wives. It brings out the 
play’s underlying paternalistic attitude toward the Siamese 
people. And even the few scenes where Gray explodes in 
rage seem to fizzle out.

Choreographer Susan Ki-kuchi and her cast of dancers did 
a masterful job of re-creating in its entirety the intricate 
Siamese ballet version of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," narrated by 
Tuptim for the visiting British dignitaries. But it goes on way 
too long. A little judicious cutting wouldn’t hurt.

Yet Hoebee and resident set designer Michael Anania get 
big points for opening up the play with gorgeous outdoor 
sets. Anania has outdone himself once again with an 
exquisite moonlit, star-strewn midnight rooftop scene that 
makes "Shall We Dance" simply magical.

His delicate flower-strewn temples create an ironic and lush 
setting for the soulful duets "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I 
Have Dreamed" between Tuptim and her secret lover. 
Margaret Ann Gates and Paolo Montalban gave me chills 
with their heartbreaking interpretations. These two almost 
steal the show out from under Carmello.

I say almost, because Carmello is a quiet powerhouse, and 
when she’s on, the stage is hers. I especially liked 
Hoebee’s comic staging and Carmello’s fire in her "Shall I 
Tell You What I Think of You?" number, in which her wire 
hoop underwear gets the better of her as she vents her 
anger against the peevish king.

And she sweetly captures the easy intimacy between herself 
and her son Louis in "I Whistle a Happy Tune." By the way, 
young Gerard Canonico is terrific in his small role. And 
when, standing in the moonlight, she sings "Hello Young 
Lovers," it is ardent and poignant.

Sandia Ang must be mentioned for her wonderful role as 
the quiet and strong first wife, Lady Thiang, who does a 
beautiful solo, "Something Wonder-ful," in which she 
delicately tries to explain the king’s good side to Mrs. Anna.

And I won’t shortchange Gray’s strong solo "A Puzzlement," 
in which he struggles to figure out his role as a king in a 
rapidly changing world. That one works.

"The King and I" will be performed at the Paper Mill 
Playhouse on Brookside Drive in Millburn through May 19. 
Performances run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 
p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. 
The musical is suitable for youngsters ages 10 and up. For 
tickets, call (973) 376-4343 or log onto