Paliku’s The King & I: Something Wonderful
There truly is something wonderful about getting to know The King & I and all of its glorious constituents in each fleeting moment of this marvelous show. I have seen many renditions of The King & I, and overtime, it’s become one of my top three favorite shows from the Broadway canon, the others being The Sound of Music and West Side Story. But, no matter how many times I see this particular show, I can’t help but be impressed by the phantasmagoric nature that every element of this fabulous show offers.
Directed by Mary Chestnut Hicks, The King & I at Windward Community College’s Paliku Theatre follows the story of a widow named Anna Lenowens (played strikingly by guest artist Kathleen Stuart), as she and her son Louis (Kainoa Kelly) embark to Siam by personal invitation of the King (a deft Michael King) to educate his many children. Amidst the palace grounds are two forbidden lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha (a celestial Allison Chu and a subdued, yet powerful George Benevente, respectively) who vie for each other’s love, as well as the head wife, Lady Thiang (a splendid Vanessa Benevente), who vies for her husband’s attention and affection. What unfolds over the course of the show are cultural clashes, arguments about customs, traditions, and broken promises, and a permeating, underlying theme of the power of love.
There are so many elements of the show worth mentioning and praising, but the two most notable aspects are the divine cast and effervescent, regal costumes. Hicks, with supreme direction, has assembled a top-notch cast with actors seemingly born to play these roles. Though most of the cast doesn’t wear shoes, it’s as though they’d fill them seamlessly and effortlessly. Stuart brings a sense of honesty and veracity to her role, never missing a note, always emoting while on stage even if she is not the focus. Benevente serves as the heart of the show in her role as the overlooked wife, yet her subdued performance remains one that becomes the most powerful. Her rendition of “Something Wonderful” (one of my all-time favorite Broadway songs) fills the room with her powerhouse vocal. Having seen the revival at Lincoln Center two years ago, I found myself naturally making comparisons to their Broadway counterparts (stage legend Kelli O’Hara and local Ruthie Ann Miles, both of whom won Tony’s for their performances), yet their performances fell concomitantly within their ranks. Furthermore, Ng finds the right balance of tone, comedy, and gravity as the King, causing audiences to love, loathe, and sympathize with him all at the same time. Lastly, Chu hypnotizes audiences with her powerhouse vocals, presence, and delivery as Tuptim. She commands the stage which goes as no surprise, having graced various stages as the former Miss Hawaii 2016. The rest of the cast in their supporting roles hold their own in one of the most talented casts I’ve had the pleasure of meticulously observing in recent years.
Furthermore, costume designer Anna Foster imbues the show with majestic costumes that seemed as though she had a budget worth some million dollars. The scrupulous detail and color involved in her costuming is apparent, not worth questioning the painstaking process and copious amount of hours involved in constructing these attractive garbs. I sense a Po’okela coming her way.
All aspects of this fabulous show blew me away, and it truly is one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years, even topping some of those at Diamond Head Theatre, the theatre that holds my heart, patronage, talent, and loyalty. From the casting, to costumes, to the stage and musical direction, to the set and props, Paliku’s The King & I is one you will not want to miss.