Hail to The King

by Geraldine Rullan-Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)

Friday, 17 August 2012
Published in Life Style

Since its first production, The King and I has spawned many artistic interpretations despite the controversial political elements in its story strewn with the classic clash of cultures between the East and the West. Siam’s political independence is shown all too well by the characteristics of King Mongkut — his pride and stubbornness amidst his desire to adopt the scientific and technological advances of the West.

In the story, the women who surround him temper him and make him out to be a just and loving father and king despite his own protestations of kingship.

An all-Filipino cast, under the direction of Freddie Santos, veers away from the political controversy in The King and I, which is taken from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens as told by Margaret Landon. Santos directs a distinctly romantic version of the King and I that focuses on the universality of the themes in the story. Love, loss, sorrow and even parenting techniques, both Eastern and Western, are tackled in the story of King Mongkut of Siam and his children’s governess.

Rodger and Hammerstein’s The King and I comes to Resorts Worlds Manila (RWM) Newport Performing Arts Theater (NPAT), which has 1,500 seats in a grand scale befitting its state-of-the-art projectors, lights, sound and largest LED in all of Southeast Asia.

Monique Wilson plays Anna opposite Leo Talavera Valdez’s King Mongkut. The production promises to be lavish and outlandish with moving elephants making its rounds in RWM. New sets of props bring show-goers to the palace of King Mongkut. The mix of light, sound and video technologies provide a dual experience of movie and theater dimensions, transporting everyone in the NPAT inside the dramatic events in King Mongkut’s palace.

Rajo Laurel, one of the leading fashion designers in the Philippines, takes to heart the task of designing the entire wardrobe of the lead characters. Having played one of King Mongkut’s children in a production starring Lea Salonga, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Raymund Lauchengco, Laurel felt he has come full circle in his career as a designer by now practicing his craft for theater.

“Designing for stage and real life are two wholly different things, but I hope in either case the person who wears my clothes is empowered by my garments,” he says.

Looking at the awe-inspiring Monique Wilson; her alternate, pretty-as-a-princess Sheila Valderrama, both playing Anna; stately yet charming and multi-awarded Leo Talavera Valdez; and balladeer Bo Cerrudo, both playing King Mongkut, one can say they definitely exude confidence and act empowered.

The two Annas are regal, feminine and ethereal in a pale baby-pink gown. In each movement, the ball gown swings gracefully about them, and the peasant sleeves with big bows come together, depicting a confident and yet soft-hearted governess.

The two King Mongkuts are kingly in their intricate red separates that were playfully and asymmetrically designed by Laurel. Both look like royalty in all its splendor and yes, undeniable male arrogance.

As the story of Anna’s life as governess to King Mongkut’s many children from different wives unfolds, one can see it is a tale of a woman caught between the rigid demands of being a schoolteacher with the scrutinizing eyes of the royal family and her unexpressed and growing love for King Mongkut.

Lady Thiang, played by veteran theater actress Gina Respall and her alternate Apple Chiu, helps weave another love story into the main story as Tuptim, a Burmese slave, dares to disobey Siam’s law to follow her heart as she falls in love with Luntha, her official escort. Tuptim is played by Tanya Manalang and Marian Santiago and Luntha is played by Lorenz Martinez and Floyd Tena.

Santos, a three-time Aliw awardee for Best Director (stage and concert), gives all of his artistic prowess and discipline to The King and I. His multi-faceted experience of several decades as a stage actor, producer, songwriter, performance, hosting coach and director of events, concerts, television and theater has been brought to fore in this theatrical production. Santos passionately coaxes out the romance and family centeredness of the story, inspiring and driving his actors to interpret the universal themes in Anna’s memoirs.

The King and I production team is composed of the RWM as producer; Ultimate Entertainment, Inc. as line producer; Mark and Christine Manalang as project directors; Freddie Santos as director; and Rodel Colmenar as the musical director of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra. The Philippine Ballet Company is under the artistic direction of Ronilo Jaynario and dance mastery of Anatoly Panasyukov. The vocal direction is under Lyn Fabella. Technical direction is under Ernie De Leon and Rey Baylon. Light design is by John Batalla. The video producer is Carlo Manere. Sound engineering is by Rards Corpuz. Set design and construction is by Jo Tecson of Light and Space Concepts. Costume design for Anna and the King is by Rajo Laurel, and for the cast, Aksana Sidarava. Make-up and hair styling are by Myrene Santos.

The King and I opens on Sept. 15 at the Resorts Worlds Manila Newport Performing Arts Theater. For more information, log on to www.rwmanila.com or call (632) 836-6333.

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