Something wonderful is happening at Milton Keynes Theatre: audiences are getting to know The King and I thanks to a sumptuous revival by The Lincoln Center Theater.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious golden age musical first opened on Broadway in 1951 and has been whistling its own happy tune ever since.
Many people have experienced this classic story of contrasting cultures through the 1956 film. Broadway star Yul Brynner played the wilful monarch and actress Deborah Kerr – assisted by ghost singer Marni Nixon – was Anna, a widowed English schoolteacher summoned to Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s to tutor his harem of wives and many children.
Even if you have never seen the film, you will recognise the songs. I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance? are just a few of the toe-tapping tunes you can expect to find yourself humming after the show. Perfectly pitched for musical storytelling, their melodies and lyrics are thoroughly entertaining while delivering profound insights into the characters and events.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I has four Tony Awards to its name and is touring the UK following a sell-out season at the London Palladium. It is directed by Bartlett Sher, who sensitively handles the monumental clash of cultures at the heart of this period piece.
His revival stays faithful to the dated narrative of ancient royal protocol and imperial mentality. But it somehow feels timeless. And this is probably because it uses old-fashioned glamour, light humour and an operatic quality to emphasise the enduring themes of power, tolerance and progress.
Whatever your current relationship status is, winsome musical Once appealingly arranges all the right notes to remind you of everyday romance.
The show, currently engaged in its first major UK tour, is based on Irish writer-director John Carney’s critically acclaimed 2007 micro-budget indie film.
A folk-rock fairy tale, Carney’s super simple story focuses on the unlikely relationship between a heartbroken Dublin busker and a young Czech single mother. Their names are never revealed but these two unassuming characters are united by an overwhelming passion for music. They click personally and professionally, ultimately restoring each other’s faith in the power of love.
Years ago, an editor who knows her rock from her roll and was hooked on the Once soundtrack lent me the DVD. Shot in a casual, mock-documentary style, with all the heartfelt music played in situ, the film was truthful and tuneful. The cash-strapped but resolute characters, homespun quality and evocative soundtrack created a genuinely uplifting viewing experience.
It felt very real. Candid. I watched that DVD just the one time but Once seen, never forgotten. It left a lasting impression. So much so, I wondered whether this straightforward – albeit spellbinding – screenplay would adapt to the stage.
Short answer? It does.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is an irresistible dance theatre production that radiates vintage glamour and vivacious grace.
Think of classic British ballet film The Red Shoes and delightfully dated images of ballerinas, and surreal displays of the agony of artistic expression, come to mind.
Whether you have watched Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 cinematic masterpiece or not, you have probably encountered the movie’s meditation on being an artist versus living a life. Or heard of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, in which a vain peasant girl disobediently slips on a pair of scarlet slippers that force her to dance until having her feet amputated and dying is a relief. Failing that, perhaps you are just aware that the film was one of the first to be shot in glorious Technicolor.
Whatever your level of familiarity, it’s likely you associate The Red Shoes with the magical lure of the theatre, the sacrifices that artists make, and the fine line between passion and obsession. And there is the dancing too, of course. A dance to the death once the heroine jumps into those blood-red shoes.
Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne might be known for his idiosyncratic re-imaginings of traditional ballets and stories, but his heartfelt interpretation of The Red Shoes is a gratifyingly faithful retelling.
There is barely time to draw breath when watching Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre. This year’s pantomime leaves you gasping for air between the laughs and gasping in awe at the spectacular flying carpet.
Spare a thought, then, for motormouth comedian Joe Pasquale, whose role as Wishee Washee must leave him puffed out and parched by the interval. Talking a mile a minute, he bounds about the stage with a twinkle in his eye while getting up to mischief with props, his cast mates and audience members. His energetic sense of fun is truly infectious, and he has the entire auditorium creased up.
As a co-director and contributing writer, Joe seems to have had carte blanche to do his own thing in Aladdin and he does it extremely well. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be Aladdin without the earnest, impoverished lad who falls for an exotic princess; is conned by the evil Abanazar; wanders into the Cave of Wonders and releases the Genie from a magic lamp.
Lee Mead (best known for winning the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do and playing Ben “Lofty” Chiltern in the BBC’s Casualty and Holby City) is a class act as Aladdin. He has natural charm and a powerful voice. He pulls off the puns and enthusiastically throws himself into slapstick scenes with Joe. He really is everything you could wish for from a panto hero.
English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire is a treasure trove of colourful characters and virtuoso dancing. It’s the perfect antidote to the winter blues.
Based very loosely on an 1814 poem by Lord Byron, the narrative of this three-act ballet follows the escapades of a dashing pirate called Conrad and his enchantingly beautiful girlfriend Medora. When Medora is abducted by a slave trader, Conrad and his pirate crew set off on a valiant voyage to rescue her.
It’s an action-packed adventure with incredibly explosive dancing from the men. There are countless bravura leaps, spinning jumps and perpetual pirouettes. The entertainment factor is top-notch. Indeed, thanks to the pirate-themed plot and ballet tricks galore, high jinks on the high seas are guaranteed!