Theatre Review: ‘The King and I’ at Cockpit in Court

The cast of ‘The King and I’ at Cockpit in Court. Photo by Cindy Lee.

In celebration of Cockpit in Court’s 40th summer of live theatre in the Baltimore community, prominent director and choreographer Todd Pearthree gives Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I the royal treatment.

Set in 1862 Siam, the King has summoned an English school teacher named Anna to serve as the tutor to his many children and wives.  In the process of teaching, Anna also learns about the people of Siam (“Getting to Know You”). But the person who seems the most hungry for knowledge is the King who finds life “A Puzzlement.”

In casting of the King, Mr. Pearthree decided to break away from the traditional bald Yul Brynner look. Instead, James Handakas as the King has a full head of gray hair and isn’t ethnic looking, except for his costume.  If you can get past this, then you will enjoy his performance.   Rather than speak-singing like Yul Brynner or Rex Harrison, Mr. Handakas adds new depth to such songs as “A Puzzlement” and “Shall We Dance?” with his rich vibrato and smooth, lyrical phrasing. This aspect of his singing allowed the audience to explore a little bit easier the vulnerability and insecurities of the King.

King (James Handakas) and Anna (Nancy Parrish Asendorf). Photo by Cindy Lee.

Nancy Parrish Asendorf is a delight as Anna Leonowens as she sings such Rodgers and Hammerstein classics as “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting to Know You.”  But it is with her touching rendition of “Hello, Young Lovers” that made my eyes swell up with tears.  As graceful as she was onstage, she appeared to have some trouble sitting and dancing with her large hoop skirt.  This didn’t stop the audience from applauding during “Shall We Dance?.”

All the songs mentioned above are well-known classics.  But there is one special song that doesn’t get noticed as much, and is a hidden little treasure.  If you go to the show, I encourage you to listen for the song “We Kiss in a Shadow.”  It is sung by the forbidden young lovers Lun Tha (Kevin James Logan) and Tuptim (Molly Doyle). With his tender singing voice filled with strong vibrato Kevin gives one of the finest vocal performances in the production.  Molly’s youthful, good voice blends well with Kevin, especially in the song “I Have Dreamed.”  It is her song “My Lord and Master” where she not only shows off her good voice, but her good acting skills as well.

…the wonderful voices, the large cast of children, and the classic songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein will make you whistle a happy tune.

Try and count how many gold hats are in the production and you will surely lose track!  The costumes, supplied by the A.T. Jones costume shop with Eva Grove as the costume assistant, really helped to bring Siam to life on the stage.  The set by Ryan Haase also brought Siam to life with it’s giant pillars with gold circular designs in between.  Not so giant was the orchestra.  The musicians they had, led by conductor Glenette Rohner Shumacker, were very good.  What was missing were live strings. To properly mount a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, a production must have live strings, not a synthesizer.

A highlight of the production was the song “Getting to Know You.” The large cast of happy, cute children will bring a smile to your face.  Solo dancer Polly Hurlburt made this song memorable with her fine dance skills and her good stage presence.

Director and choreographer Todd Pearthree’s “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” is a work of art.   Dancers with long, bendable sticks with hanging objects, like leaves and snowflakes helped to tell the story, along with masks.  Mr. Pearthree has a knack for creating dance moves that are unique and inspired, all while telling a story.  A few of the stand out cast members from the number include, Zoe Feldman (Uncle Thomas), Monica Fafaul (Eva), and Amy Greco (Topsy).

Overall, Cockpit in Court’s production of The King and I is very enjoyable.   Besides the suggestions mentioned above, I would like to have seen more attention to the make-up design as well as better execution of the actors accents.  Still, the wonderful voices, the large cast of children, and the classic songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein will make you whistle a happy tune.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.

The King & I plays through July 1, 2012 at the Theatre Building of the CCBC Essex College Campus, 7201 Rossville Boulevard, in Rosedale, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-840-2787.  For more information click here.