The musical of King And I staged in Manila is a stunning spectacle

Four airports and three flights in 24 hours — all to catch King Aand IRodgers and Hammerstein’s musical King And I. Having watched its 1965-film version starring Yul Brynner, I couldn’t wait. The musical was staged recently at Newport Performing Art Theatre (NPAT), located in Maxims, a luxury hotel of Resort World Manila.

NPAT, as far as theatres go, is fabulously world class. A 1,500-piece crystal chandelier is the centre piece of the lobby. “One for each guest,” a staff said. As people started making plans about how to take it home, he clarified,“I was joking.” Of course! The 1,500 seats include uber exclusive box-seats that offered the best view. If one doesn’t get the ‘best’ seats, there are always the huge LCD screens for the action.

The evening began with cocktails, wine, scrumptious short eats, and beautiful people in even more beautiful clothes. And presiding over the proceedings was the robotic elephant, which turned out to be part of the musical.

Finally, the musical. The lights dimmed, and we sunk into the luxurious red seats to be taken to another place in time — to the Siam that Anna Leonowens landed when she was appointed tutor to the many children of King Mongkut. Earlier, close to three hours watching a musical seemed demanding. But with the brilliance of Leo Tavarro Valdez as King Mongkut and Monique Wilson as Anna, time just flew. Leo Valdez made it all seem effortless while Anna made all that moving around in a gown look easy. The musical was captivating with all the singing, dancing and acting…

Leo Valdez essayed King Mongkut without the baggage of Yul Brynner’s Mongkut. In fact, the same applied to the play too. Redoing the King Aand I and being faithful to the original was no mean feat, and director Direk Freddie Santos achieved that.

A few of the scenes were a treat to watch. Such as the one where the young crown prince is horrified to find that Siam is but a tiny dot on the world map or when Anna helps the King plan a reception for the English Resident. Tuptim’s interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is magical. Since the story is told from a Siamese girl’s perspective, the characters in the play within the play are mythical characters from Siam. The Oriental telling of the classical American tale is brilliant. Instead of props, actors ‘act’ out a flowing river. Or, a frozen one for that matter! Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Rodel Colmenar, matched the performance onstage.

All those preconceived notions about having to communicate in sign language while in the Philippines had been dispelled with. We learnt English was important in the Philippines because the country served as a military base for the U.S. ‘But a two-hour musical in English by an all-Filipino cast?’ we had wondered at the beginning. But we needn’t have! The musical was a jaw-dropping, stunning spectacle — the sets, the costumes, the visual effects… the show was well worth the trip.

For details, visit www.rwmanila.com.

(The writer was in Manila at on the invitation of Resorts World Manila)