"THE KING AND I," through July 18, CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville (801-298-1302 or CPTutah.org)
CENTERVILLE — When widowed English schoolteacher Anna moves with her young son from Singapore to Siam to educate the children and wives of the king of Siam, things get off to a rough start. The king had promised her a house, and while he seems to be going back on his word, she is resolute to uphold her part of the bargain — while not letting him forget his failure to do the same — and her teaching and influence prove to go far beyond the scholastic.
CenterPoint Legacy Theatre brings this familiar and beloved story to a local stage in its production of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I." And while one element — making the primarily Caucasian cast appear even remotely Asian — inherently proves to be a bit of a puzzlement, the vast majority of the show's other facets work together to make the production "something wonderful" indeed.
The 1860s Siam setting is managed through a fairly simple but effective set, with elephants at either side of the stage and blue marble columns toward the middle, with a couple of interchangeable elements helping to differentiate between locales. The costuming also add an element of the Orient, particularly the garb of the king, his children and, to some extent, his wives. Natural hair colors reign supreme, however, and basic makeup around the eyes doesn't do enough to help the audience forget the events are taking place on a stage in northern Utah whenever the wives come on the scene.
But there are many fantastic performances. The Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast features Natalie Peterson as the earnest and sweet yet deeply determined Anna, and Peterson is strong in each of her numbers yet gains noticeable momentum as the show progresses. Whether she's comforting her son, chastising the king or commending her pupils, she's right on the mark, and her singing is lovely.
Chuck Gilmore as the king is also excellent, though a bit difficult to take seriously as a hardened ruler with the twinkle in his eye and a hint of a smile even when he's supposed to be upset. Even so, he's delightful.
Brigham Inkley is impressive as the king's son Prince Chulalongkorn, capturing and effectively mimicking the mannerisms of the father while also conveying the son's confusion at the conflicting messages and lessons he's receiving at the hands of the adults around him.
Wendy Inkley, Brigham's mother, turns out a nuanced performance as head wife Lady Thiang, particularly during the wistful song "Something Wonderful."
Shouldering the weight of the star-crossed lovers subplot is Rhiannon Cameron as Tuptim. She far outmatches Richard Maxfield, who plays Tuptim's lover, Lun Tha, and the imbalance is a little jarring. Apart from her beautiful voice, which easily climbs notes that live far north on the musical scale, she infuses her character with undercurrents of emotion.
Rounding out the standouts is Matt Green as the Kralahome. His portrayal of the king's prime minister is marvelously dry and understated.
Then there's Anna's ballgown, which deserves its own place in the cast list for its vibrant loveliness. It's a silky, shimmering and flowing lavender gown with puffed sleeves and glittering purple beading around the neckline in front and back. Sitting atop a hoop skirt, it's huge and it's glorious, particularly when put on full display as Anna polkas with the king in "Shall We Dance?" Costume designers Wendy Nagao and Tammis Robbins Boam have done incredible work, and not just with this outfit, though it's the highlight.
Some of the songs are more memorable than others, but music director Larry Smith and choreographer Liz Christensen deserve particular praise for their work on "Getting to Know You," which involves most of the ensemble, and especially for the play-within-a-play, "Small House of Uncle Thomas," in which the costumes, dancing and stage elements are all exquisite.
Fans of the musical are likely to be familiar enough with the songs and plot to be swept up in the simple elegance of this production, and it's a nice introduction for the uninitiated so long as they allow themselves to sink into the story.
Overall, CenterPoint's production of "The King and I" is well worth getting to know.