‘The King and I’ at Cockpit in Court by Amanda Gunther

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The 2012 summer season at Cockpit in Court begins with a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, The King & I. With delightful cheery tunes and beautiful setting in which the play occurs the story of Anna, an English widow, unfolds as she comes to Siam to teach the King’s children and wives English. As her stay in Siam continues she faces the challenges and adventures of the culture, the people, and most of all interacting with a king who is not used to such an independent and outspoken woman. It’s a heart-warming tale of discovery and learning, acceptance and love that is the perfect way to ignite the fires of summer for this company.

The Cast of Cockpit in Court's 'The King & I.' Photo by Cindy Lee.

The costumes are stellar. Rented from Baltimore’s largest theatrical costume shop, A.T. Jones, they transport the audience from modern day America to 1860’s Siam. The elaborate dresses that are fitted to Anna’s character simply take your breath away. Each more grandiose than the next until her astonishing bare-shoulders mauve dress in which she attends dinner with the king and his English guests. The wives and royal children are outfitted in similarly incredible outfits; bright and colorful with gold accents, indicating true royalty.

This, however, is where the journey to Siam ends. When producing a show that is heavily dependent on a particular culture or race as its premise – it is important to do everything to emulate that culture to believability on stage. This production involves no attempts at the Siamese accent, except one very poor one made by The King (James Handakas) which ends up sounding French with English undertones. The show would have been better served if someone or a dialect coach would have helped characters like Lady Thiang, The King, and Phra Alack into this setting. The King also wears shoes the entire duration of the shoe, despite making a point in several of his lines about his bare feet.

Director and Choreographer Todd Pearthree does not do his actors justice in several of the key scenes of this performance. Pearthree keeps the majority of the characters still. In songs like “A Puzzlement” sung by The King and “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?” sung by Anna, the actors display an eager wound-up energy that is portrayed in their voices. But for most of the duration of the song both Handakas (King) and Nancy Parrish Asendorf (Anna) are left simply standing facing the audience as they sing. It is very obvious that they have energy in which they should be bouncing about the stage, doing something other than standing, in these numbers but never get to do so.

Pearthree’s lack of choreography made highlights in the show fall flat. The entire ballet of “Small House of Uncle Thomas” is essentially characters walking back and forth across the stage. Only Eliza (Polly Hurlburt) has any attempt at actual dancing during this scene and even then it is only toward the end when she mimics Angel (Priscilla Simmont) on the frozen river. There was such little effort put into the choreography that by the time “Shall We Dance?” came around I was beginning to wonder if the King and Anna would dance the polka at all. They did, and Asendorf and Handakas were finally able to release that brilliant pent up physical energy after spending an entire show of standing mostly still.

Musical Director Glenette Rohner Shumacker saves the show by eliciting melodious and harmonious sounds from the ensemble and principle singers. Shumacker makes sure that the duets are in perfect harmony, that everyone is annunciating their words when singing in the higher octaves that can often muddle what is being said, and ensures that the singers are heard when singing.

King (James Handakas) and Anna (Nancy Parrish Asendorf) in "Shall We Dance.' Photo by Cindy Lee.

There are two incredibly beautiful duets performed by Lun Tha (Kevin James Logan) and Tuptim (Molly Doyle) during the performance. When Logan and Doyle sing “We Kiss In A Shadow” they melt the hearts of the audience with their deep secret love, blossoming in the lyrics of the song. And when the pair unites once more in act II to sing “I Have Dreamed” their hopes and optimism are clear as crystal resonating out through each note.

The other gorgeously perfect voice in this show is Asendorf’s (Anna). Carrying the show on her vocal shoulders, Asendorf sings a host of songs with a bright and soulful sound, each song connecting deeply with an emotion as she sings it. Asendorf is very motherly toward her son and in the same breath is independently outspoken when dealing with The King. She creates a heroine in Anna that the audience easily falls in love with. Her song “Hello, Young Lovers,” is the most sensational performance of the show, the strong sense of love and loss with hope and dreams tied into her lyrics brings a smile and tear to the audience’s eyes.

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, or purchase them up to one hour prior to show time in the theatre lobby. For directions and map of the campus, click here.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.