Most directors can only envision their musical productions as big and splashy. L. Walter Stearns reimagines Porchlight Music Theatre’s current offering, his swan song as Artistic Director, as an intimate Rogers and Hammerstein treat, proving that less is more. With such intimacy comes a special connection between cast and audience that’s often difficult to achieve. But achieve they do, and then some.
On a simple platform with steps backed by some Asian-inspired archways lined with tufted fabric, the scenes flow easily, from shipboard to the royal palace to Anna’s apartments. Bill Morey’s elegantly designed Siamese costumes are opulent and shimmery. Brenda Didier creates beautiful, accessible choreography full of grace, especially in the showpiece ballet, “Small House of Uncle Thomas.” And interpreting Richard Rodgers’ lush dual piano accompaniment with authority and finesse are talented musical director Eugene Dizon and lovely Allison Hendrix, both often interacting with various characters.
Audiences may never have enjoyed a King like this, as sung by actor Wayne Hu. Captivating, commanding and blessed with a rich baritone Yul Brynner could only have dreamt of, Hu is every inch the King of Siam. His performance is nicely balanced by wonderful actress/singer Brianna Borger as ahead-of-her-time, feminist English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, hired by the Siamese King to help bring his country into the early 20th century. These two adversaries banter, spar and ultimately negotiate a tender, respectful friendship.
The super supporting cast includes Kate Garassino as head wife Lady Thiang, a powerhouse singer who almost stops the show with her heartfelt “Something Wonderful.” Jillian Anne Jocson as Tuptim, paired with Erik Kaiko as her secret lover, Lun Tha, sing their hearts out. And while the King’s children are all terrific, Richard Nava shines as the Crown Prince, the symbol of Siam’s future.