I have no idea how most other reviews are (though the New York Daily News had a rave), but boy howdy did the critic for the Hollywood Reporter go mind-crushing crazy wild over the new production of The King and I at Lincoln Center.
The production stars the wonderful Kelli O’Hara, who has been nominated for five Tony Awards (you may have seen her in the PBS Live from Lincoln Center productions of South Pacific and Light in the Piazza -- both of which got her Tony nominations. Not to mention her recent supporting role as 'Mrs. Darling' in NBC's Peter Pan Live) and Ken Watanabe, who I’ve only known as a film actor. His name might not be recognizable to everyone, but he's best known for starring opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He was also in Letters from Iwo Jima, as well as last year's remake of Godzilla.
I’m not remotely surprised to read the critic’s raves about Kelli O’Hara (though “raves” is putting it far too mildly…), since as terrific as she almost always is, 'Anna' seems a perfect role for her. The surprise to me was reading about Ken Watanable. It turns out that he's an accomplished stage actor in Japan.
How much a rave was David Rooney's review? He writes, among other things --
"As for the superlative leads, Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe, to say they are outstanding seems almost unfair given the uniform excellence of the massive ensemble....enough to make a musical-theater lover's head explode...I never wanted it to end....[the production] honors the composing team's legacy with a richly entertaining revival that takes the term literally by infusing the material with vibrant, soul-stirring life."
Okay, not bad. But it's nothing compared to his words about Kelli O'Hara, like this passage --
"One of America's most gifted musical-theater performers, she attacks the role with staunch resilience but also an enveloping warmth that allows for moments of heartbreaking emotional candor even in anger. And that voice is its own woodwind section, with a crisp lightness and clarity that are all the more remarkable because the performance appears so effortless.
"Hearing O'Hara — under the faultless music direction of R&H expert Ted Sperling, and backed by the shimmering original orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett — sing ageless standards like 'I Whistle a Happy Tune,' 'Hello, Young Lovers,' 'Getting to Know You' and 'Shall We Dance?' is reward enough. But the revelation is the fiery internal conflict, and the frustration masking subconscious attraction that she pours into Anna's furious soliloquy, 'Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?'"
As for the aforementioned Daily News, just to make clear the Hollywood Reporter wasn't alone, their critic Joe Dziemianowicz (no, my typing fingers didn't cramp) begins his short review by writing, "Something wonderful happens quickly in The King and I". (Note that "Something Wonderful" is one of the show's songs.) He then goes on to add comments like, "And just like that, this splendid revival emerges as majestic and intimate simultaneously." And also "O'Hara more than delvers in her sterling star turn." So, I think it's safe to assume that this is, indeed, a terrific production.
PBS has a history of broadcasting Lincoln Center productions near the end of their run, as they've done with two of Kelli O'Hara's other musicals. (Three, actually, if you include their production of Carousel, which wasn't officially considered a Broadway production, but more of a "one-off," with the New York Philharmonic.) So, hopefully this is something they’ll do on Live from Lincoln Center. Though if so, it might have to wait a while until the run winds down.
In the meantime, you can read the full glowing review here, and this is a video montage -- alas, no singing -- of the show.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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