THE KING AND I by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. Runs in rep to Nov 9. $51.15-$98.50, stu/srs discounts. Festival Theatre, Stratford. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NN Rating: NN
memo to aspiring musical stars: Beware parts that were created for a particular actor. You'll always be compared to someone else. Unless you yourself have charisma to burn, which Victor Talmadge , Stratford's King of Siam in The King And I , does not.
Worse still for Talmadge, he's playing a role that was not just created for Yul Brynner, a man with a torrid presence, but was also inflated for him. The show began as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence (who, incidentally, had some magic of her own), but once Brynner started rehearsing what was to become his signature role, the creators beefed up the part.
Actually, they rewrote the whole damn thing. The musical is not about the heroics of an English teacher in Siam but about her friendship inside a conservative culture with a complex and brilliant leader trying to stare down modernity. The piece doesn't work without a powerful king
At least - and he can thank the hospitable Festival Theatre for this - Talmadge is more of a presence than he was in 2000 at that cow palace called the Hummingbird. Even there, a tepid Hayley Mills as Anna made him look better than he was. But here, Lucy Peacock , despite some breath problems during the songs, displays way better vocal chops - both spoken and sung - than Talmadge and a deeper emotional range, and that wrecks the chemistry.
But give it this much: this King And I is drop-dead gorgeous. Every time the main characters walk onstage, they're wearing something gasp-worthy. And the palace? It's so beautiful it almost makes you wonder why Anna is so bent on getting her own house.
If you like the songs and don't mind operatic readings by Lady Thiang ( Helen Yu ) and doomed lovers Tuptim ( Anne Marie Ramos ) and Lun Tha ( Charles Azulay ), you may get some pleasure from the production.
But this King And I is basically empty eye candy.