Nashville on Stage:
The King and I opens

Bill Dorian

Bill Dorian

The King and I continues through Aug. 17 at the Larry Keeton Theatre at the FiftyForward Senior Center in Donelson. This Oscar winning Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is a visual delight with colorful, exotic costumes and scenery representing the Asian kingdom of Siam during the middle 1800s. The often humorous, often meaningful play will keep your foot tapping with classic tunes by Richard Rodgers like ‘Getting to Know You,’ ‘Whistle a Happy Tune,’ and ‘Shall We Dance.’

The King and I is a staple of American regional and community theatre, but is most famous for the 1956 musical film in which Yul Brynner won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of King Mongkut of Siam. Deborah Kerr was launched to stardom playing the English tutor of the king’s numerous children, Anna. The play focuses on the familiar story of the British tutor/nanny who travels to Siam to educate the king’s 19 children from his various wives. But there is also an underlying subplot about the abolition of slavery in mid-19th century Siam.

The King and I is based on the 1944 novel  by , which derives from the real life memoirs of ,  to the children of  in the early 1860s. Everyone is familiar with the humorous episodes involving Anna learning oriental culture and the king learning to dance the polka, but there are also more serious moments like the king’s abolition of slavery in his country (in the play, at least—historically, that issue is open to debate).

But The King and I is the original East versus West tale, making for a dramatic, richly textured and ultimately uplifting story. In 1862, English widow Anna Leonowens and her young son arrive at the royal palace in Bangkok, Siam. Anna has been hired to teach the royal brood. The king is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna’s assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story.

Late in Act I, the king informs the new governess that a British diplomatic delegation is coming to Bangkok, and he wishes her to help prepare a reception. For the gala event, which takes place early in Act II, Tuptim (Mongkut’s young Burmese wife given to him as a present by the king of Burma) prepares a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a stylized ballet called ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’—a fairly audacious choice to present to an autocratic king. You can probably imagine the way King Mongkut reacts.

As in most ‘love stories,’ Anna and the king’s relationship has many highs and lows. The king learns a great deal about tolerance from Anna, and her horizons are enhanced as well. On his deathbed, the king abolishes slavery in the kingdom, and his son the prince promises to be a more tolerant ruler—thanks in no small amount to Anna’s influence.

Children from the theatre’s children’s summer camp, the Keeton’s Kids Camp, will be incorporated into this kid friendly show. The King and I is co-directed by Jamie London and Ginger Newman. Musical direction is provided by Ginger Newman with choreography is by Jamie London.

The Larry Keeton Theatre is a dinner theatre, with the meal served one hour prior to the show. The menu for this show is oriental chicken with vegetables, rice, and Asian salad with Thai vinaigrette dressing. Orange sherbet and fortune cookies will be served for dessert. The theatre is located at 108 Donelson Pike, Nashville, Tenn. 37214.

To order tickets call 883-8375 or go to the website at <www.thelarrykeetontheatre.org>.