May 2, 2016 - Lyric Opera of Chicago has mounted a lavish production of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, The King  and I. Though elements of the 65-year-old Broadway jewel may, at first glance, feel a bit out of touch with more contemporary fare, this gorgeous bit of musical theater feels joyful, full of passion and lovely as ever.  

Kate Baldwin brings the role of Anna Leonowens to life with elegance and care. Baldwin not only tackles the iconic “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance” with exquisite voice, her energy permeates the show and holds the audience rapt throughout two substantive acts. What’s more, Baldwin’s sensitivity adds poignancy and intensity to the pivotal last aching moments between Anna and the King.

Paolo Montalban’s delightfully athletic portrayal of the King of Siam is full of verve and nuance. He moves beautifully as a dancer and brings that same grace to every moment he’s on stage. The result is mesmerizing.

​The talent goes well beyond the title characters, however. In fact, the entire production is filled with exceptional performances. From Rona Figueroa’s lovely interpretation of “Something Wonderful” to Ali Ewoldt and Sam Simahk’s hauntingly romantic performance of “I Have Dreamed” to the adorable and gifted young actors playing the Royal Children (Leila Koss’s few lines as Princess Ying Yaowalak are so sweet and honest), The King and I is packed with extraordinary artists and artistry all around.

Not only do the cast members make Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work look and sound remarkable, they somehow manage to make Sue Blane’s stunning costumes shine even brighter. “Shall We Dance” is an absolute feast for the eyes, thanks to Blane’s captivating designs, Baldwin’s instincts, and Peggy Hickey’s lovely choreography.

​Jean-Marc Puissant’s scenic design, at once opulent and spare, only adds to the charm of the moment. Though he manages to create at least a dozen locations with clever use of screens and minimal set pieces, Puissant’s strong choices make a huge impact and squarely place the audience in 18th century Siam, while providing the lush glamour we’ve come to expect from Lyric Opera.

David Chase leads a nuanced reading of the rich Rogers and Hammerstein score and adds a perfect cap to a noble production that gives a beautiful nod to a timeless story, iconic music and opulent beauty that is so often missed in today’s live theater… food for thought.

The King and I runs at Civic Opera House through May 22, 2016.

Kate Baldwin, Charlie Babbo, Matthew Uzarraga and Paolo Montalban in Lyric Opera of Chicago's spring 2016 production of The King and I (photo by Todd Rosenberg).

Lyric Opera's The King and I Delights the Eyes, the Ears and the Heart
 By Leslie Price