Last night was a date night, with dinner and a show. Anne and I dined at Little Saigon Café in the Central West End and then saw “The King and I”, performed at the Fox. This pairing made for an enjoyable Indochina themed evening.
Back in the day, we used to frequent Little Saigon for date nights. Then the boys were still young and our need for romantic getaways were fulfilled at this exotic and tucked-away establishment. The menu now boasts more western influences then I remember, but our food was still good. We started by sharing a pair of shrimp summer rolls. I had their shaking beef, which gets its English name from the constant shaking of the pan while browning the meat. This dish featured wok-seared flank steak and onions that is served over a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and a side of lemon garlic dressing. Anne chose their ginger rice and chicken. Featuring wok-fried jasmine rice with ginger, shredded chicken, soy-ginger sauce and topped with scallions and cilantro. Served with cabbage salad.
We have seen “The King and I” before. Mostly at the Muny, where it has been performed five times during our tenure in town. We even saw Yul Brynner in his signature role there. He was on his swan-song tour, while dying of cancer.
This production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite was more sumptuous than any I have seen. The musical opens with Anna, the “I” in the show, on the prow of a titanic yacht, first docking in Bangkok and who is moved to whistle a happy tune. In this performance it was also refreshing to see all of the characters of color played by actors of color. It is 2017 and this fact should be able to go unremarked, but then there it is. This was not an inconsequential casting decision, what with this play’s 50+ member cast of men, women and children.
None of the score’s standards have paled with time. It was glorious to hear them all sung again. The musical itself has also worn well. In this #MeToo moment, the play’s dueling themes of unrequited love versus man’s barbarism resonate with what we now read daily in the news. Anna and the king spar, but also listen to each other and eventually learn from each other. Their friendship is tragically mirrored in the romance of the two star-crossed lovers from Burma (Myanmar) and foreshadowed in the play within a play, Small House of Uncle Thomas.
There are also moments of levity, such as the dressing scene, where the king’s wives are trying to get used to wearing western hoop skirts. A British envoy is arriving and Anna and the king are striving to show him that Siam (Thailand) is not a barbaric nation. A sight gag is the casting of an absurdly tall actor as the envoy, who is head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the cast. When he stands next to the king it serves as a visual reminder of how things once were.