Boulder's Dinner Theatre frequently transcends expectations, offering shows far better than the usual dinner-theater fare. There's a lot of talent in the resident company, and the sets and costumes tend to be appealing and the direction sharp. But The King and I feels like a bit of a throwback. Some of the devices are...well...a little cheesy. The billowing swaths of fabric that serve as a set work well representing the sails of a ship in the opening scene, but they become distracting later in the action. Then there are the bare-chested men in coolie hats scuttling around the stage and the weird accents and forced speech of actors made to play out mid-1950s American stereotypes of Asian people.
Of course these problems are inherent in the show itself. With its emphasis on strong women and an abhorrence of anything resembling slavery, The King and I was progressive for its time, but no artist can entirely escape the myths and preconceptions of his own culture. So Rodgers and Hammerstein showed the people of Thailand as caricatures, the women seductive and giggly, the men stiff as cardboard cutouts. The King -- in some ways and on his own terms a wonderfully humorous and quixotic character -- is still in need of civilizing. And who best to do it but a white, upper-class Englishwoman?
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The songs endure. "Shall We Dance" still yields dizzying pleasure. And no one ever wrote better love songs than Rodgers and Hammerstein: "Hello, Young Lovers," "We Kiss in a Shadow," "Something Wonderful," "I Have Dreamed." Much of the dialogue is workable, and there's no reason a modern audience shouldn't get involved in the plot. I can't help thinking that if The King and I were staged with a certain amount of irony and awareness, and with professional dancers for such numbers as "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," it would still soar.
The King and I
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 26, 2006, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com
But the Boulder's Dinner Theatre version is very conventional. Wayne Kennedy does sterling service as the King, though he makes the character funny and cuddly; there's no hint here of the dangerous, mercurial figure we expect, and that would jolt the plot into life. Amy Grass is appealing as Tuptim, and Jade Tiller as Lady Thiang. Both had some trouble with their -- admittedly very difficult -- high notes on the night I attended. Lyndsay Giraldi is a lovely, graceful Eliza. A.K. Klimpke's Kralahome is a stereotype, pure and simple. Perhaps there's no other way of playing this role. And Shelly Cox-Robie makes Anna so charming and radiant, and brings to the songs a voice so sweet and pure, that she redeems the entire evening.