I attended Friday (March 11) night’s performance of The King and I at Flintridge Preparatory School. I knew I’d be taking the bus (the school is on the other end of town from where I live), so I headed out the door a little after 6:30 to catch the bus in time for the curtain at 7:30. I got to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited. And finally called the number on the bus stop sign to check for the bus schedule, which said that the last bus of the evening came around 6:30. Since I’d left the house at around that time, I knew I’d already missed the last bus and, if I really wanted to see this show, was going to have to walk the rest of the way. Since one of my (now former) coworkers was in the show, I knew I wasn’t going to miss it if I could help it, so I started walking.
I got more than halfway from the bus stop to the school when… wouldn’t you know it? A godsdamned bus passed me. Damn, I was so angry, then. But I knew that I really had missed the last bus by that time (even though I’d just seen it fly by /anger & frustration), so I resolved to be angry (if I still felt like it) after I arrived at the school’s auditorium. When I finally made it to the auditorium foyer, I stood in line for my will call tickets (“Just one?” the guy behind the table asked. “Yes,” I said, and he handed it to me in a white envelope.) and as the guy handed them to me, the foyer lights began to dim and come back to full strength intermittently, which means that the audience should take their seats, if they haven’t already, because the show is about to begin.
Tuptim, played by I. Weiss (a senior), and Lun Tha, played by Z. Myers (a junior)
I found my seat, about midway back from the stage on the far house right. (Unfortunately, this meant that I was unable to see the map of Siam, England and the world during the scene wherein Anna is teaching her students that Siam isn’t as big geographically as they think it is.) In any case, I settled in and tried to ignore the screaming high school fangirls who seemed to be completely surrounding me. (Ugh.) I told myself over and over that I could put up with it because, after all, it was a high school play, and I would put up with it for the sake of my friend in the production. (He played Lun Tha, Tuptim’s forbidden lover from Burma, on two of the four performance nights. See photo above.)
One thing I found interesting was the director’s note in the production’s program, in which he says, in part, “I told the cast on the very first day that we must cling to very important foundation points: tell the story as honest[ly] as we can and be as truthful and celebratory of the Siamese/Thai culture as possible.” My friend told me about this aspect of the musical in his excitement while the cast was still rehearsing, and it was that—aside from my willingness to support a friend in the arts—that made me want to see Flintridge Prep’s version of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The opening prayer and all the non-English dialogue was in either Pali or Thai, not just Asian-sounding gibberish, which—I admit—I was expecting from a high school production. I am, needless to say, glad that the director and cast rose above that.
The opening prayer, which “celebrates the respect and pursuits of a learned mind”
according to the production’s program
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is, of course, a grand and beautiful display of 1950s racism and sexism based on a film from the 1940s, which—in turn—was based on a book, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon (which is itself fictional and based on the original Anna‘s admittedly already racist/sexist memoirs, The English Governess at the Siamese Court  and Romance of the Harem ). Talk about a game of Telephone! There is little doubt in my mind that any of the cast, or the director himself for that matter, ever read any of the source material to see for themselves how bad it actually is. (And it is bad.) The irony of having a mostly white American cast wasn’t lost on me; though now that I think about it, I’m not sure people of Siamese/Thai descent would actually want to be a part of something that degrades them so obviously.
Putting aside the content of the musical (over which, I understand, the director had no control, except that he chose it in the first place), the production itself was actually pleasantly surprising in terms of acting, costuming, and direction. My friend who played Lun Tha was especially surprising for me because I didn’t know before seeing the musical that he could sing at all. (In fact, I had playfully called him Justin Bieber, something to which he took offense, and something I now officially retract. He’s much better than said popstar.) I also thought it was a neat idea to have the principal roles split between two actors each so as to spread the love, so to speak, and take some pressure off of said principals to perform perfectly four nights in a row. Except for the King, who was played by the same actor in every show, the primary roles were split between actors who performed either Thursday and Saturday or Friday and Sunday. (I don’t know why the King’s role was reserved for just one actor, though I admit he was pretty good.)
The entire cast of Flintridge Prep’s The King and I
As I had never been to Flintridge Prep before, I was also surprised by the free refreshments during the intermission. I partook of two chocolate chip cookies and a cup of Zen green tea. I also bought a lavender rose for my friend (“Proceeds go to the theatre department”), complete with a tag with space for a note, just in case I didn’t see him after the play was over.
I think, if I wanted to, I could really delve deeply into the racism and sexism that’s built into the musical and think about why Flintridge Prep decided to stage its production here and now, but this review is already long enough so I’ll save my theories for another post when I have more time. (More time? What’s that?)
Photos courtesy of Flintridge Prep.
(Haha; new rule from now on: if I don’t write the damn review within a month of finishing the book/movie/event, I’m just not going to. Almost two months after the fact is just ridiculous.)