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East Meets West

‘King and I’ revival comes to San Diego

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — One of the many memorable songs in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” is “Getting to Know You.”

Appropriately enough, when the touring Broadway production comes to the San Diego Civic Theatre June 26-July 1, audiences will get to know the characters more intimately than ever before.

During a June 7 telephone interview with The Southern Cross, cast member Joan Almedilla said the approach taken by this production is “so different from how it’s been done in the past,” and audiences have been quite surprised by that.

Set in 1862, the stage musical was inspired by the real-life story of Mongkut, the king of Siam, and Anna Leonowens, the British schoolteacher he hires to provide his multitudinous progeny with a modern education.

Almedilla, who plays Lady Thiang, the “head wife” of the polygamous king and mother of his heir, said previous productions have tended to play up the opulence of the king’s palace. This time around, she said, the palace décor is sophisticated, but perhaps less ostentatious.

In place of some of the gleaming gold, she said, theatregoers should expect to find an even more valuable treasure: a focus on humor and character development.

“You’ve never seen these characters in that kind of light before,” Almedilla said, crediting director Bartlett Sher with giving audiences a window into their internal struggles.

“The King and I,” which premiered in 1951 and has returned to the stage several times over the years, won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival under Sher’s direction.

Almedilla, who remembers watching the 1956 film adaptation during her childhood in the Philippines, believes the musical’s unwavering popularity can be attributed to one of the very things that inspired her to audition for it: the songs.

Rodgers and Hammerstein “wrote so many classics and ... unforgettable tunes,” and this musical is no exception, she said, listing “Getting to Know You,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance?” and “Something Wonderful” (sung by Lady Thiang) as just a few examples.

The current U.S. tour began in fall 2016. Making it even more special for Almedilla has been the fact that her real-life son, C.J. Uy, is one of her co-stars. The 9-year-old is making his stage debut as one of the royal children.

While the show is a uniquely family affair for her, Almedilla said that it can also be one for audiences.

“It’s for the entire family,” she said.

“You will laugh, you’ll cry,” she added, and — at least, while the two main characters are performing the duet “Shall We Dance?” — “you’re going to want to dance.”

For more information, show times or tickets, visit www.broadwaysd.com.

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