The Cabrillo Music Theatre has opened its 2008-2009 season with a perennial favorite: The King And I by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s a treat to hear that glorious score, with songs like “Getting To Know You,” “I Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and so forth. The production also features the original choreography of the “Small House of Uncle Tom Ballet,” which has been lovingly recreated by Irene Cho, who had performed the piece under Jerome Robbins' supervision in The King And I and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Additional choreography is by Heather Castillo. Lewis Wilkenfeld, the Artistic Director of the Cabrillo Music Theatre, provides the capable direction.
The King and I made a star of Yul Brenner, who played the King up until his death and also was the star of the 1956 movie. The original Anna was Gertrude Lawrence, and the movie Anna was Deborah Kerr. Another Deborah, Deborah Gibson, a star of both pop music and Broadway, is Cabrillo's Anna. Ms. Gibson has a lovely voice and is lovely to look at. Her King is Daniel Guzman, who played the King to great acclaim a few seasons back in the Musical Theatre West production in Long Beach. He has the confidence of having done the role before, and has his character down.
Yet I had some trouble with both these performers, for different reasons. Ms. Gibson was almost too strong for the role; she would be better suited as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific or Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, roles I would love to see her play. Here she lacks the natural lady-like quality that stood Deborah Kerr in such good stead. My only complaint about Guzman is that his performance has gotten too cute at times, and it diminishes the King’s stature. Both Gibson and Guzman do sing the hell out of their respective roles, however.