Article 131

'King and I' missing vital component

Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "The King and I" has just about everything - star power, lovely voices, exotic costumes and sets, and an excellent orchestra. What it lacks is excitement.

Not the excitement of car chases or explosions, but character excitement that pulls us into the story and fills us with the tingle of forbidden love and the first-time illusion that anything might happen.

In this show, the relationship between Anna and the King is based on strongly controlled passion and the edgy possibility that it might dangerously leak out. In the Hawaii Opera Theatre version, we see the control but don't experience the emotion.

Directed by Martin Rabbett and starring Richard Chamberlain, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic hits all its marks with measured but bloodless staging. Characters are chess pieces that move precisely, but independently of each other, and the human story is suppressed by nearly ritualistic movement.

Chamberlain's King benefits from his rich baritone, although it is little exercised in his featured numbers - "A Puzzlement" and "Song of the King," which are not the show's best songs and are spoken rather than sung.

His careful presence brings a grandfatherly dimension to the role and emphasizes the King's apology - "I begin very late" - for having fathered only 67 children. "Shall We Dance," which should bubble with sublimated sexual energy, plays as a moderated aerobic exercise, and the one moment when the pair look as though they might connect is necessarily interrupted by the script.

Jan Maxwell's performance as Anna, however, is an excellent example of the power to create character through music. "Getting to Know You" shows Anna's personal warmth and willingness to cross cultural lines, while "Hello, Young Lovers" reveals her potential for romance to be more than a memory.

Similarly, the young lovers in question - Jordan Segundo as Lun Tha and Kristian Lei as Tuptim - are primarily defined by their music. Their duet on "We Kiss in A Shadow" deservedly garnered the loudest applause on opening night, but their characters' tragic ends play out devoid of tangible emotional investment.

Blossom Lam Hoffman as Lady Thiang has the lovely solo, "Something Wonderful," the King's children are charming, and "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet tells its stylized story through Marie Takazawa's precise choreography.

Heavy on starlight and shadows, Fabrice Kebour's lighting design is sometimes romantic and sometimes foreboding but too often has us wishing someone would light another torch.

Guest-conductor Michael Ching assures a large and lush sound from the orchestra and puts strong emphasis on the vocal numbers by soloists and chorus. Not surprisingly, music prevails in this production.

Richard Chamberlain Online