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So I went along to the launch of The King and I yesterday

Bartlett Sher’s Broadway hit musical The King and I is heading to the London Palladium for a limited 14-week engagement, before a tour that will see the show visit Asia.

I went along to the launch. There were goodie bags and bucks fizz and it was frankly amazing. Here is what happened.

Press and media type people

Press and media type people

Doors opened at 11.15 am but I didn’t want to look too eager, so I arrived at WAC Centre, Belsize Park at about 11.20am. The invite promised breakfast and while there was no porridge on offer I did find some miniature sausage rolls, and mixed berries on cocktail sticks.

After a while we were led into a rehearsal room for a presentation and cast Q&A.

Sir Howard Panter – lead producer-  appeared and made some amusing comments.

Original Broadway cast members Kelli O’Hara, who won a Tony award for her portrayal of Anna, and Japanese movie star Ken Watanabe file into the rehearsal room with various cast members and give us a look at several of the show’s toe-tapping numbers.

The orchestra fire up and O’Hara storms the space like a celestial being with ‘Getting To Know You’. What a voice. What. A. Woman.

Several numbers from the show are performed and then we are gifted, from the theatre Gods, an excerpt of ‘Shall We Dance’. Incredible scenes.

There was a huge round of applause and I went off to chat to Na-Young Jeon (Les Miserables) and Dean John Wilson (Aladdin) who will play the young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha.

How do they think the morning went? “It was nice to have an audience because we’ve been playing to a blank space for four weeks. It’s nice to get a round of applause at the end of things. We’re super excited,” he says.

What, I ask, can this production of The King and I say to modern audiences about feminism. “People might not come and see the show because they may think that it is dated. But I really want to say because it is Rodger’s and Hammerstein it is so beautiful and sweeping you will love the music. It is also a very modern revival; I think especially now with Me Too movement and so many strong women alongside strong men saying that we deserve the same rights it is relevant. So, I hope that fifty years later The King and I will still be timeless and people will think we’ve achieved something,” she says.

“Right now – what a time to put a show on like this – the way that society is going. It is an old story but it is so relevant to today. It is a timeless story,” he says.

Here is a photo of us after our chat. Don’t we look happy.

Left to right - Dean John-Wilson, Me & Na Young-Jeon

Left to right – Dean John-Wilson, Me & Na Young-Jeon

Anyway, it is a golden time for diversity on our capital’s stages, it feels like a significant overdue moment for BAME representation in the West End with shows like Tina, Kinky Boots, Lion King, Hamilton, Dreamgirls & Motown the Musical.

So, I suppose the big question is this: why revive The King and I? Why now?

A sixty-seven-year-old musical about a mid-twentieth century schoolteacher teaching Victorian values at the court of the King of Siam could be problematic. Will this production interrogate Orientalism? Are the gender and race politics, in abstract terms, outdated and harmful? Food for thought, ladies and gentlemen.

Either way it was an 10/10 sort of morning full of feeling and I cannot wait to see this exceptionally gifted company bring a bit of class back to the West End. Let us hope they put a fresh spin on a familiar tale…

The company of The King and I take a bow

The Company of King and I

The Company of King and I

The King and I runs at the London Palladium from June 21 until 29 September

https://kingandimusical.co.uk/