‘The King and I’ at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre

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Allow the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre to transport you back in time to an exotic land ruled by a stubborn King who is confronted by an even more stubborn schoolteacher. Under the able direction of Carolyn Coulson, experience the magic that is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Whether this is your first exposure to the classic musical or a return visit to an old favorite, you won’t be disappointed.

Anna (Jenna Pinchbeck) and The King (Russell Rinker). Photo by Alan Lehman.
Anna (Jenna Pinchbeck) and The King (Russell Rinker). Photo by Alan Lehman.

The King and I is arguably one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lushest and most magical scores. Under the excellent direction of Thomas Albert, the music in The King and I is fully realized. Albert and Assistant Conductor Matthew J. Pool deserve kudos for creating an atmosphere in which both orchestra and singers do full justice to the score. This rendition of The King and I is a delight for the senses.

As Anna, Jenna Pinchbeck delivers a strong and nuanced performance. Her temper tantrum in “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You” explodes with suppressed frustration and passion. She is wonderfully warm and engaging in her scenes with Louis (Charles Casey) and the adorable cast of princes and princesses. Pinchbeck delivers a beautiful rendition of the iconic “Hello Young Lovers.”

Playing the King requires stepping into shoes of legend, as Yul Brenner is so identified with the role he originated. Russell Rinker does a fantastic job of reinventing the King, taking the role from caricature to a fully enfleshed, three-dimensional King, who struggles between the certainty of what he’s always known and a desire to enter a new and “civilized” world that leaves him puzzled. Rinker’s rendition of “A Puzzlement” was gorgeously sung and acted. I only wish the musical itself afforded more opportunities to hear this King sing.

“Shall We Dance” is one of the iconic musical numbers in The King and I – and in the golden age of musicals for that matter. Pinchbeck and Rinker deliver, infusing this number with electric chemistry and making it one of the emotional highlights of the show.

SSMT veteran Robin Higginbotham delivers a humorous, wise, and tender performance as Lady Thiang, the King’s Head Wife, and her “Something Wonderful” is emotional and moving. As The Kralahome, Taylor Bloom elevated a stock role into a memorable character with great passion and feeling. As Tuptim, the King’s “present” from Burma, Robin Chinn delivers a fierce and fully acted character. “I Have Dreamed” – her act two duet with her lover Lun Tha (a wonderfully sung performance by Christopher Prasse) was lovely.

Jenna Pinchbeck (Anna) and The Children. Photo by Alan Lehman.
Jenna Pinchbeck (Anna) and The Children. Photo by Alan Lehman.

Andrew Robare as Prince Chulalongkorn commanded the stage from his first dramatic entrance in The March of the Siamese Children. He embodied the spirit of royal command throughout his performance, skillfully creating the arc of arrogant prince to confused son to intelligent leader ready to bring changes. Robare is a triple threat, singing beautifully in “A Puzzlement (Reprise)” and standing out amongst a cast of very talented dancers in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.”

Choreographer Edward Carnignan’s reinterpretation of Jerome Kern’s “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet in Act Two was easily one of the highlights in the show. Led by Cassandra Hhlong (Eliza), Patrick Clealand Rosé (George/Angel), and Bryce Wagner (King Simon of Legree), the dancers (Courtney Hostetler, Mara Lucas, Cassidy Watkinson, Nikkie Culbreth, Eliza Grigsby, Andrew Robare, Philip Skinner, Kelsee Sweigard, and Kacey Willis) delivered a haunting and entertaining ballet that truly advanced Tuptim’s story in Act Two.

'The Small House of Uncle Thomas.' Photo by  Alan Lehman.
‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas.’ Photo by Alan Lehman.

William McConnell Bozman’s set is evocative of the King’s Court and is supple for shifting from ship to schoolroom to garden, etcetera, etcetera. Sylvia Fuhrken’s costumes are gorgeous and show the contrast of East versus West effectively. Furhken’s costumes are especially effective in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet sequence and in “Shall We Dance?”

Don’t miss this royal treat!

The King and I plays  July 9-20, 2014 at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, performing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre-1460 University Drive, in Winchester, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (540) 665-4569, or (877) 580-8025.

LINKS

‘The King and I’ Opens This Wednesday at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre-Cast Interviews Part 1.

“Shall We Dance? “Meet Jenna Pinchbeck-Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s Anna in ‘The King and I.’

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Diane Jackson Schnoor
Diane Jackson Schnoor is delighted to be back in the DC metro area after nearly two decades away. She earned her BA at The American University, with a minor in theatre arts, and holds a master's and doctorate in elementary education from the University of Virginia. A lifelong devotee of the arts, Diane's reviews and arts feature stories have been published in The Millbrook Independent and DC Metro Theatre Arts. As an actress, Diane has performed with the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, the Fort Bragg Playhouse, TriArts Sharon Playhouse, and in musicals and dance shows in Millbrook, NY, Amenia, NY, and Lakeville, CT. Her day job career has run the gamut from adjunct college faculty to preschool director to public relations director and back again, but her primary occupation these days is as chauffeur to the two young actresses who inhabit her home in Winchester, VA.

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