Critical Review


Through Spotlight Education, Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Critical Review program gives high school students the opportunity to attend and review touring Broadway productions. A writing program, Critical Review enhances critical thinking and creative response skills. Students receive press kits for each show, and attend workshops led by experts in the field on topics ranging from lighting design to choreography.

Students post their reviews and interact through our online portal — online access is required for participation. Students are accepted through an application process.

This program is free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.

Applications for 2017 – 2018 are now closed. Please check back in in late August/early September, 2018 to apply for next year.



The King and I, based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her son as they arrive in Siam. Anna has been hired to be a teacher for The King of Siam’s children and wives in a epic clash of cultures and opinions. The relationship between The King of Siam (Jose Llana) and Anna is comparable to a choreographed tug-of-war and is portrayed through spectacular acting.

 Since The King and I’s premiere in 1951, it has been considered a Rodgers and Hammerstein theater classic. The 2017 production by The Ambassador Theater Group has upheld that reputation. With orchestrations by Richard Russell Bennett and an orchestra conducted by Gerald Steichen, the music is stunning, even if it does loiter at times. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is strong but never forced making for pleasant listening. Both she and Jose Llana are able to fill their voices with intense emotion that adds more layers to their characters and their characters’ contrasts. Jose Llana is a perfect king, stubborn and trying to do his best. His accent is melodic but he is still rather easy to understand. Llana and Kelly carry their characters as constants for each other and it makes many of the internal conflicts of The King and I more moving than the external conflicts.

The King and I is a historical drama that is laced with humor. Though there is conflict in the coming together of the East and the West, there is an abundance of humor to be found in the script. The audience laughed often and the repeated words of “ectera, ectera, ectera..”  could be heard in the lobby bother at intermission and after the show. Many parts of the show were applicable to situations in modern life and that helped the audience connect with The King and I and its characters.

The set and costumes were magnificent, a beautiful mix of elaborate and simple. Anna’s dresses were large with hooped skirts in simple colors and basic patterns. Likewise, Louis, Captain Orton, and any set pieces from the anyplace outside of Siam were clad in plain colors and were muted compared to the striking colors used to depict Siam. Lady Thiang and the king’s other wives were dressed in opulent tones matching to the region: even after the king’s death, the ensemble was costumed in white, the traditional mourning color in Siam (now modern Thailand). The set, though few pieces, was crafted beautifully and used to create a variety of backdrops through flowing scene changes.

Though The King and I drags on at points, the actors do a wonderful job at making it a worthwhile show. If you’re willing to have a little patience, the run time can be overlooked for the over all majesty that is The King and I.

SOMETHING WONDERFUL by Elizabeth Donovan

Not to state the obvious, but three hours is quite a long musical. Which is why I was so surprised when The King and I ended and I found myself wishing for more.  The King and I, playing at the Orpheum Theatre from February 28 through March 5, tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) becoming a schoolteacher for the children and wives of the King of Siam (Jose Llana) in 1862. This Rogers and Hammerstein classic is an ambitious undertaking, but this production, directed by Bartlett Sher, delivers both a beautiful period piece and an entertaining performance that remains relevant to modern life.

The superb cast brought not only remarkable talent, but also unfailing energy and life that carried the show throughout. Kelly’s voice was breathtaking. It fit the music so well and with such ease that it was as though the score were written for her. She depicted Anna’s spirited nature with unfaltering vigor, despite the length of the show and her bulky period costume. Llana, too, perfectly captured the complexities of his character, who struggles between ideals of tradition and progress, and brought an unexpected amount of relatable humor to a show set in 1860s Bangkok. Joan Almedilla, who played Lady Thiang, also had a beautiful voice, and portrayed her character with a contrasting but equally respectable energy to that presented by Kelly. Truly, every member of the cast, even the youngest children, provided consistent characterization, exhibited commendable technique, and kept up with the changing tones of the story as it swung from satirical to romantic to tragic. The short ballet within the show, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, was especially noteworthy. In this piece, the ensemble delivered a beautiful and emotional performance that was so engaging I almost forgot it existed within another story.

The technical aspects of the show were just as impressive as the performance, and worked in harmony with the actors and the story. A moving boat set against a shadowy sunset immediately catches your attention in the first few moments, and the main set uses moving pillars and a wall in the background, along with other removable pieces and props, to simply but effectively suggest different areas of the palace. Each character had multiple costumes, all of which were visually stunning and gave each character a distinctive look while simultaneously creating an organized picture with the other characters and even the set. As with the cast, each aspect of tech within the show, including lights, sound, and the incredibly talented orchestra, was consistently strong and interacted beautifully with the story and characters.

Every production element and cast member was loyal to the story and characters, and worked together seamlessly to provide an engaging and artistic performance. For the sake of argument, I tried to find something negative to say about The King and I and, though I’m sure there were flaws, none stood to me out enough to be worth remembering or writing about. I enjoyed some beautiful music, laughed, nearly cried, and had an all-around incredible experience that I can honestly say I would recommend to anyone.


This iconic musical is well known for its Film Adaptation in 1956, but The King and I made its debut on Broadway in 1951, based on the Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam. Between 1952 and 2015, the musical has won awards time and time again and has been nominated an innumerable amount of times. The plot remains timeless and timely as two people of different cultures strive to understand the other in a rapidly changing world. While the plot holds value, this showing in particular has winning moments unique to itself.

Laura Michelle Kelly (Anna Leonowens) has a lovely singsong voice! It reminds me of a songbird. It isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, and that’s what I like about it. It isn’t a forceful sound that demands; rather, it floats throughout the theater, particularly during the heartwarming song “Getting to Know You.” Jose Llana, the king of Siam, somehow manages to make the king somewhat likable. I don’t completely despise him, due to fact that there are so many moments when Jose provokes our laughter. The only complaint is that at times he was hard to understand. Not necessarily because of his character’s accent, but more due to poor articulation. Graham Montgomery, Prince Chulalongkorn, is funny from the moment he steps onto the stage. His physicality is so big and bright! He expresses his character’s supposed sense of grandeur from the moment we first see him without uttering a single line. Impressive.

I think what makes this show most impressive is the costuming, by Catherine Zuber. Firstly, they are elaborate. From Anna’s wide-rimmed, smooth-as-buttercream-dresses, to the royalties finest, silk robes, not only are the costumes well detailed and express the cultures of the musical, they are also abundant in amount. Every new scene had numerous new and beautiful costumes, which indicates the careful, articulate detail that this show has embedded into it. I would also like to mention that the set, designed by Michael Yeargan, also shares this appreciation for detail. The set is vast, maybe even at times superfluous, but quite stunning. The transitions from scene to scene are so smooth, sometimes I didn’t even notice. It’s like flipping the page of a book that you’re captivated by; the transitions do not slice the story. At times, it was difficult to hear the actors, partly articulation, partly the volume of the microphones at the beginning, but it wasn’t anything unadjustable.

More than anything else this version of The King and I is a musical centered around dance. This is particularly apparent in the second half when they have a guest to entertain. Due to this, though, dance pieces feel rather lengthy and lost my attention more times than I’d like to admit. Parts of the show felt unnecessary, even if it is always visually appealing. The King and I, though, is equally an abundant feast for the eyes as it is for the heart.


With the coveted Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Revival to its name, The King and I is yet another show in the Minneapolis Orpheum’s 2016-2017 season that garnered high expectations before it even hit the stage. And, much like its predecessors, it does not disappoint.

Based off Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam (which was based off Anna Leonowens’ memoir), Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is set in 1862, and begins with Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) a widowed Welsh schoolteacher, arriving in Siam with her son, having been hired to teach English to the King’s children. Her values and way of life immediately clash with those of the King (Jose Llana) and his subjects, and ultimately provide a learning experience for the adults as well as the children.

One of the most striking things about this production is the way it seems to transport you back in time. This isn’t just due to the elegant Victorian-era costumes; Director Bartlett Sher made a bold choice to eschew the current trend of casting vocal powerhouses and emphasizing their musical talent while putting their actual acting performance on the backburner, and it pays off. Laura Michelle Kelly doesn’t run through entire octaves in a matter of seconds, or belt out refrains at the top of her lungs that make your jaw hit the floor, but her voice is sweet and pleasant, and that lends itself to her wonderful delivery of her character. Much of the same can be said for Jose Llana, whose voice, while nice, is well outshone because he absolutely nails his role as the hilariously headstrong King. This practice of casting actors who sing rather than singers who act was far more commonplace in the days of old-school Broadway, and seeing this refreshing-yet-familiar revival of it is a pleasant surprise.

Another strength of The King and I is its visual elements. Michael Yeargan (Sets) and Donald Holder (Lighting) clearly understand they’re fortunate in having the beautiful Siam as a setting to play with for a while, and they don’t waste one second of it. They hit the ground running when they open the show, with Anna standing at the bow of a ship against a heady Bangkok sunset that looks like something out of an oil painting. From there, they spoil the audience with a litany of rooms and corridors in the palace, one of the most notable being the garden where Princess Tuptim (Manna Nichols) and her lover, Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao) meet in secret at night. While they lament the forbiddenness of their relationship, they’re drenched in a melancholy blue light as thin tendrils of pink fabric seem to drip from the rafters, swaying and mimicking the leaves of a willow tree. Truth be told, it’s difficult to find flaws to critique in the show, apart from a bit of a rocky start–the overture started too early, and thus was somewhat drowned out by half the patrons still meandering to their seats, and the house lights were left on through the first scene, making immersion into the story difficult. But, after that, it reels you in with its wit and romanticism and doesn’t let go.
With its beautiful visuals and old-Broadway flavor, The King and I is a fresh take on a timeless classic.

I AM CONFUSED by Madilyn Duffy

 We have all seen Disney movies. The castle in the beginning with the whimsical music played over it. The beautiful animation that allows each character to be unique and exquisite purely because of the way lines on paper are shaped. The King and I, directed by Barlett Sher, was reminiscent of those childhood movies. A grand ship fills the opening scene, where the sky is a fiery red and the music plays, filled with the promise of adventure. It is set up to be a fantastic tale of an independent woman in the 1800s, a curiosity of her time. Laura Michelle Kelly makes Anna her own form of Disney princess as a strong and empathetic teacher similar to Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. As I sat enthralled by a show that made me want to smile like a little girl discovering a new princess, you can imagine my surprise when I watched the audience begin to leave.

Slowly, small clusters would drift out the door, never to return to their seats. So for the better part of a half an hour, I mused what could be causing these people to leave? What was I missing? It couldn’t be the cast, becauseThe King and I had sublime casting with excellent voices, and the small children (such as one of the youngest ones played by Rylie Sickles) were so adorable I don’t see how anyone could want to walk away from them. Was it the story itself? I cannot imagine so considering several of the last shows we have been to this season have been achingly slow and heartbreakingly boring, and yet less people walked out of those. The set, designed by Michael Yeargan, and the costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, were so gorgeous and intricate that I couldn’t tear my eyes off of them, let alone walk away. As one of the first full pit orchestras in a few shows, the local musicians and conductor (Gerald Steichen) had no problems that I was able to detect. Each note flowed smoothly into the next, and the songs were played seamlessly.

The final conclusion I came to was confusion. The audience members either must not have known the length of the show (with a run time of 2 hours and 55 minutes) or thought it was over at intermission. For, even if the show was lengthy and a little dry at times, it does not make sense that this is the show audience members are walking out of. The show is at the Orpheum Theater until Sunday, March 5th, and is visually stunning and a captivating storyline. It is filled with characters you want to cheer for, plus a heaping amount of character development throughout the story. It is a funny and light hearted take on some deeper, darker issues. This show will hopefully have you leaning forward in your seat in order to see better, and not getting up out of it.


The Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” came to the Orpheum Theater this past Tuesday, but despite being a revival, the musical lacked some much needed reviving. “The King and I” originated as a movie in the 1950s and is set back in civil war era Siam. While some may argue that the message transcends cultures and time, nothing is more out of date than colonization and the stripping a nation of it’s culture. The production’s plot consists of Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) converting the King of Siam (Jose Llana) and his children to the “proper” English ways by stripping them of their traditions and values. I understand that many find this musical a classic and some might even deem it worthy of a Tony, but to make a plotline like this relevant to young people, the musical should’ve made stylistic choices to bring “King and I” into the 21st century.

The leading actors were strong, but lacked an X-factor that would set their performance apart from any other musical. Leonowens sang pleasantly, but her performance lacked originality; she didn’t do anything new or unexpected with her role. In fact, most actors and actresses played it very safe. That being said, Broadway actors don’t always have to interpret a role or base their performance in modern times. Many people, particularly over 50 years of age including my parents and aunt, come to see “King and I” to feel nostalgia or be reminded of a story they heard in their childhood. Even though the cookie cutter performances may have satisfied this demographic, not many youth are flocking to “King and I” for this very reason.

The production values were exactly what you’d expect, for better or for worse. Once again, I felt like there was an opportunity to take artistic risks and liberties with the set, and it felt like it could’ve come straight out of the movie. The actors themselves did some transitions with reflective fabric or scrim, which created something visual dynamic instead of the predictable automatic curtains. Transitions were smooth, and the dropdown columns and vines that came in at certain points of the musical helped add legitimacy and drama to the storytelling. The lighting, however, was a little overdramatic at times and made me feel like I was about to faint. When the King of Siam got upset with other characters, which was more frequent thank one would think, all of the lights on stage turned the entire stage from yellow to orange to red. This takes the audience out of the story and makes them want to take an aspirin.

“King and I” had redeemable moments—the sleeveless Asian men dancing—but the show lacked its proclaimed revival. Maybe I don’t appreciate this classic sexist tale of colonization, but if art made us all feel the same way, it wouldn’t be half as interesting. Perhaps I didn’t love the revival of “King and I,” but at least it leaves Minneapolis in a week.


      The King and I, playing at the Orpheum February 28th – March 5th, takes you to 1862 Bangkok where King Mongkut of Siam is hiring English teacher Anna Leonowens to instruct his many children and wives. Musical theatre has adapted to fit the times, but this show, originally opening on Broadway in 1951, has been through decades. I entered the theater expecting a bit of a dull show, but was pleasantly surprised by its charm. The music wasn’t anything extraordinary, but the set and costume design more than made up for it.

      The vocal energy was captivating enough to keep even the weakest parts intriguing. Capturing tender moments with the kids, or intense fits of rage, the cast kept a strong hold on telling an authentic story through the dialogue. However, this was not the case for the singing.  Most of the songs were slower, classic musical theatre pieces producing a vibrato that gave an opera feel. For a disappointingly large section of the cast I had trouble comprehending their lyrics. This was especially so for Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla) and Tuptim (Manna Nichols). Every time they sang, their acting was realistic, but I had trouble receiving the full message because I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

      While the singing may have been a bit uneventful, the costumes and set were stunning. It was like stepping into the King’s palace and witnessing the clash of two cultures through etiquette and clothing. I had the highest expectations for Anna’s beautiful, full skirted dresses and it surpassed anything I could have imagined. Her closet seemed endless featuring pieces in forest green, white with blue stripes, deep magenta, and my favorite, fine lavender. The iconic dance between the King and Anna, when they share feelings for the first time, is better than any Disney Princess movie. They dance around the palace with her dress swirling and they float through the room as though they could dance on forever, stealing audience’s breath. Kudos to Laura Michelle Kelly, playing Anna Leonowens, for her extensive practice becoming accustomed to the weight and diameter of the skirt.

      Part of this production’s charm was Michael Yeargan’s set design. One of the most shocking ideas onstage was right at the beginning. Before you can even comprehend the originality of having a sheer curtain lit with an assortment of colors, the bow of a life-sized boat enters the stage (only later to split into three pieces, with one feathering a staircase). I found myself so invested in the show that as the lights came up for intermission, I was saddened I had to wait for Act II.

      Though this show is dated, many of the messages are timeless. It explores gender norms, generational traditions, and the experience of love. I was inspired by the main female role, schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, bold and determined as she stands her ground even in moments of knee-buckling fear. Though the story focuses on the relationship between the King and the schoolteacher, the show is enhanced by interconnected stories. Initially, these stories do not appear to be much, but as the show progresses, tension builds and your heart pounds as you wish the best for everyone.

      The King and I, though classic, brings freshness through its transfixing set and costume design. Although the music was commonplace, the line delivery kept the show moving. I recommend getting to know this show and allowing yourself to be captivated by the pageantry and majesty of this classic story.


Going into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, I was worried about an overarching message of the superiority Western culture and an ignorance towards East Asian culture within the show. I was happily surprised to find that although the show premiered in 1951, it contains some progressive themes and represents the culture of Siam in a way that displays nuance and general understanding. Based off the novel by Margaret Landon, which was adapted from memoirs by the real Anna Leonowens, the show contains many real historical events and themes to go with a beautiful score. Set in the 1860s, a British schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, travels to Siam to teach the royal children. Here she learns about Siamese culture and finds herself at odds with many of the King’s stances and methods, and as their relationships grow they find themselves teaching each other and causing reflection from both of them on their cultural ideas.

The show wrestles with many large themes present during the time period of the 1860’s, including slavery, empires, and colonialism. We see the King struggling with his relationship with the West, wanting to maintain Siamese culture and remain independent but modernize and educate his citizens in western ways nonetheless. The show discusses slavery as well, drawing many parallels between slavery and imperialism and how some who live in the palace are treated. Above all, both the King and Anna learn important messages about love and have their cultural ideas surrounding the subject challenged. While these themes are daunting in terms of how much there is to talk about, they are handled with grace, mainly thanks to the music by Rodgers. Along with many classic show tunes such as “Getting to Know You,” and “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” there are also many beautiful ballads and comedic songs mixed in, it is clear what makes this show such a classic.

This production won Best Revival of a Musical at the 2015 Tonys, and it is easy to see why. Also having won Best Costume Design thanks to Catherine Zuber, the costumes are beautiful while still being practical for all of the movement needed, with rich colors and exquisite details. The set, designed by Michael Yeargan, moves fluidly and easily portrays a multitude of settings while displaying elements of the beauty of Siamese architecture. Laura Michelle Kelly, who plays Anna, was obviously not weighed down by following in Julie Andrew’s footsteps, and her cheerful and melodious voice give life to Rodger’s music.

The King and I is beautifully produced, giving new life to a classic musical. While tackling tough themes, the show does so with ease while being surprisingly progressive for it’s time. Although long, the stunning visuals and memorable music will keep you glued to your seat and leave you thinking long past when the show is over.

THE KING AND I by Heidi Weiss

The tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I that showed at the Orpheum Theater this past Tuesday was a refreshing recreation of a production that has historically relied on stereotyping and exoticization to represent the “Far East”. Director Barlett Shar and the rest of the artistic team used authentic costuming, set design, and dance to represent the culture of Siam in a way that was respectful and honest. Because the show was not bogged down by misrepresentation of the culture, the complex questions of racism and sexism could come through more clearly. Instead of portraying one culture or idea as superior to another, the show displayed the faults in projecting one’s own culture onto another culture and how there is no easy solution to that tension. In this new and improved production of The King and I, the artistic team successfully accomplished their mission of using this musical to display foreign relations at that time as well as comment on foreign relations now.
However, where the show fell flat was in its ability to keep the audience engaged. Most of the issue comes from the fact that the show and its music are dated, and, with its lack of interesting harmonies or complex melodies, it cannot compete with the high caliber of songwriting that is present in modern musicals. The show seemed to drag for a large part of the three hours that it ran, and after a while, the songs started sounding the same, each one with another simple sounding melody. This of course is not the fault of the performers who sang the songs skillfully, but rather a symptom of the show’s age. The actors were in fact quite talented, and the two leads, Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) and the King of Siam (Jose Llana), brought both an authenticity and a humor to both of their characters that I very much appreciated. And Manna Nichols who played Tuptim, a young girl who has a secret forbidden love and is gifted to the King of Siam from the King of Burma, gave a very compelling performance particularly when her affair is revealed at the end of the show. The desperation that she displayed within her character in that scene was incredibly genuine and instilled in the audience a great sense of empathy. These things being said, I must conclude that this is a show with skilled actors who performed it to the best of their ability however, it is simply not a very good show no matter how talented the actors are. Fans of golden age musical theater or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work would probably find this show enjoyable. But I would venture to say that more modern audiences accustomed to faster paced shows with more intricate music would surely agree that the show, even when it’s done well, is a bit of a bore. It is a classic, but even classics must eventually fade into the background to allow new work to take its place and express similar themes in a manner that better suits the time.


Based on the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, “The King And I” includes a fantastic story line, a dazzling score, and a gorgeous set. This show is set in 1860’s and follows the story of a widow named Anna, who sails from her home in England to Siam. In Siam, she serves as a schoolteacher to the royal children of Siam; as a mother-figure, she teaches them about the current political changes in the world.

Going into the show, I was ecstatic since this is one of my favorite classical shows of all time. When I walked into the theatre I immediately noticed the gorgeous curtain. Throughout the show, this silk looking curtain flowed across the stage with different colors projected on it. The colors displayed on the set, costumes, and overall lighting were extremely impressive. These lighting choices kept the audience engaged throughout the show. When the curtain was whisked away, a gorgeous set incoming a giant ship was on stage.

During the first number, “I Whistle A Happy Tune”, the ship unraveled and was swept offstage. When the song started and Laura Michelle Kelly who played Anna walked out, the audience applauded. Seeing videos of her performances have blew me away in the past, but when I saw her live, I was shocked. She was WAY better live than any video I’ve ever seen. She had this stunning rich but sweet tone that reminded of a mix between Julie Andrews and Laura Osnes. Throughout the show, she never lost energy and kept me captivated as her singing voice was soothing and fit the role in such a perfect way.

Jose Llana who played the King was just as good. He had a very tall and mature sound while also bringing his sound forward in a way that fit the role so perfectly. He has his occasional sweet moments but he really pulled off the strong ruler vibe. I thought Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana complemented each other’s strengths on stage while never upstaging each other.

The rest of the characters such as Lady Thiang played by Joan Almedilla had very strong voices and stage presence which really amped up the show. Although the show is more classical, I felt a modern vibe to this performance. All the dancing had tidbits of modern dance while still incorporating the traditional dances as well. The most important part of this show was the relevance. With all the political situations happening in the world (particularly the U.S. right now), I think this show really sent a strong political message. The character of Anna would bring up situations such as how different groups of people should be treated (such as women). This show was very direct in the sense of sending that important message which I felt made the show ten times better than it already was.

This show could bring in anyone of any age and they would love it. I was absolutely stunning and I am still speechless of how amazing the entire cast, orchestra, and crew all were. I highly recommend to head out to the Orpheum and see, “The King And I” before it leaves the Orpheum after its last performance on March 5th.


Roger’s and Hammerstein’s “The King and I”, set in the 1860s, follows Anna Leonowens on her new life in Siam as a school teacher to the King’s children. She serves as a mother figure and worldly advisor for the children and people of the kingdom who are naive to the King’s false teachings of the world.

Unproudly, I hardly know any classical musicals so I went into this relatively unfamiliar, knowing only what I had learned from rehearsal videos and brief internet summaries. After doing my research, I noticed how similar the character of Anna is to a character like Mary Poppins, and sure enough, Laura Michelle Kelly, who played Anna, was the perfect combination of Laura Osnes and Julie Andrews.  Kelly took the contrasting characteristics of Anna’s stubbornness and elegance and created a beautifully complex, strong character that was easy to love and support. As far as lovable characters go, it is hard to get any more adorable than the King’s children. It was really cool to see performers so young create such fun, lovable, and unique characters right off the bat during “The March of the Siamese Children” and maintain it throughout the show.

One of the most powerful aspects of the show to me was how relevant it is to today’s society. Despite the fact that it took place over 100 years ago, there were so many themes and aspects of the show that are reappearing in today’s culture and it was amazing for me to watch the connections play out and see how the audience responded. I understand that this was majorly on the part of the writer, but I feel credit is due to the actors onstage who successfully created the connection that was so powerful. This was my biggest take-away from the show and I think that, especially in a story taking place so long ago, it is important that the audience can relate to what is being presented and the cast did a brilliant and impactful job of accomplishing this.

There was not a single sloppy moment of the show, carrying through to the technical aspects. The first thing I noticed when the show began was how beautiful the set was. Particularly in the beginning when Anna and her son, Louis (Graham Montgomery), were on the ship arriving in Siam, the gorgeous use of silhouette and lighting set up the stage beautifully and made me want to never look away. Every single movement during transitions had a purpose which I appreciated as an audience member, because far too often an actor will break character to do a transition and it messes with the flow of the show. Each character had a purpose and a motivation and it made the transitions as interesting to watch as the actual show itself.

The King and I, performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through March 5 is a beautifully moving, impactful, and flawless show that is guaranteed not to disappoint.

A MODERN CLASSIC by Larissa Miles

In the American musical theatre canon, the works of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are often lauded as some of the greatest pieces of theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s pieces are classic archetypical musical productions, 1951’s The King and I included. The Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony Award winning revival production of the classic show is filled with exuberance from both the cast and the technical elements. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this production is able to take a classic show and still make it relevant and exciting over sixty years later. The lessons taught in The King and I are just as profound today as they were when the show was written and when it took place.

The King and I tells the story of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens who travels to Siam in the 1860s to educate the Royal Children. Anna is portrayed by Laura Michelle Kelly, in a dazzling performance. Kelly is a gifted performer, having won an Olivier Award for originating Mary Poppins in London. Her British charm shines through in both her acting and her singing. Kelly’s powerful performance was met with an equally powerful performance from Jose Llana, who plays the King. His portrayal as the puzzled and conflicted leader is strong and convincing. The chemistry between Kelly and Llana perfectly encompasses Anna and The King, and culminates in the final thrilling scenes of the show. A very strong supporting cast, including a slew of young performers, rounds out the production in a wonderful manner.

While the cast itself is phenomenal, the technical elements of The King and I are what make it truly remarkable. Set designer Michael Yeargan immediately captures the audience from the moment they step foot into the theater. A large ornate gold curtain illuminates the stage and is quite captivating. When the show begins, the first set piece seen is a replica of a ship, which elicits audible affirmations from the audience. Throughout the show, various pillars and wall designs are used to illustrate different places in the King’s palace. Overall, the set is intricate, exquisite, and completely enthralls the audience in the story. Perhaps even better than the set is the lighting design by Donald Holder. Holder’s use of vibrant colors effectively portrays the country of Siam. The first scene is layered with rich reds and oranges that reflect the South-Asian sunset they need to. Throughout the rest of the show, various shades of yellow and purple are used as well. The warm color scheme worked exceedingly well in creating the mystic of Siam.  Watching the technical elements of The King and I is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece in vivid colors and grandeur.

Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, which is based on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, deserves a note of praise. The ballet movement throughout the show is elegant and consuming to watch. All of the dance sequences are executed with ease. Perhaps one of the most glorious moments of the show is “Shall We Dance?”, in which Anna and the King sail across the palace dancing.

With the current political climate of the world, The King and I resonates more than ever. Anna’s lessons of equality and open mindedness ring true today. The show sends an important message that anyone can take away from. This, combined with the spectacular cast and technical elements makes the show truly something wonderful.


Some of the most popular musicals written follow the story of two people coming from completely opposite lifestyles, butting heads, and eventually finding peace. Containing some of the most well-known songs in musical theater to this day, The Lincoln Center’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I proves to rightfully be amongst those popular shows. Set in the 1860’s, British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens moves to Siam to teach the Royal Children. She immediately proves that her different views will make her relationship with the King of Siam a difficult one. Throughout the show, Anna and the King attempt to find a balance in their relationship between friendliness and respect to ultimately, gain an understanding of one another.

Anna’s headstrong beliefs shone through beautifully with Laura Michelle Kelly’s performance. Kelly gracefully gave Anna the strong personality needed to portray Anna, all the while stunning the audience with her beautiful voice. Kelly’s remarkable performance was easily matched by Joan Llana’s performance as the King of Siam. Llana’s interpretation of the comically confused King had the audience on their toes throughout the entirety of the show. Kelly and Llana’s chemistry was obvious, and scenes with the two of them together, such as the famous “Shall We Dance” struck the audience with amazement as the two actors floated across the stage.

The strong performances throughout the show were only a few of the many jaw dropping elements in this production. Set designer Michael Yeargan continually took the audience’s breath away with elegant set designs. The use of a gold curtain in many scenes throughout the show, often illuminated by many different colors, added depth and helped set the tone in many scenes throughout the show. The curtain was a graceful a way to add simple elegance to the show, and fit the “regal” tone of the palace perfectly.  Along with Yeargan’s set designs, Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, most notably in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” captured traditional Siamese dance beautifully and kept Siamese beliefs and traditions alive throughout the show.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the production, is that of the many children in the performance. The Royal Children are plentiful, and vary vastly in age. With all of the theatrics taking place on stage, not once did any of the children on stage obviously break character. Many of the children spend the majority of the show on stage, and every actor on stage geld their focus  and portrayed their character wonderfully.

The King and I is a classic that is treasured by many theatergoers and Rodgers and Hammerstein fans. And this production, directed by Barrett Sher, continues to point out flaws in many political systems around the world, resonating with many of the audience members. The King and I offers a night filled with laughter and love, but it equally discusses many ethical and moral topics evident in the 1860’s, as well as today. The King and I will continue to entrance audiences at the Orpheum Theatre until Sunday, March 5th.


  • To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
  • To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
  • To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theatre

Elements of the Program

  • Participants see up to eight live theatre performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State, Pantages or New Century Theatres and write reviews
  • Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
  • Workshops with professionals in the theatre and journalism fields
  • Tour of one of the Trust’s Historic theatres
  • Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and SpotLight’s Critical Review reviewer site

What participants are saying:

“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers,  Critical Review student

“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student

Contact Us

For more information about Spotlight’s Critical Review Program please contact:

Pete Tedrow, Education Coordinator