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ACT's lavish 'King and I' remains an audience favorite 60 years later

October 23, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

With Alpena Civic Theatre's lush production of "The King and I," there is much to be relished in the details. This monumental Rodgers and Hammerstein musical continues to captivate more than 60 years after it first opened on Broadway.

Director Chip Lavely and the talented production team at ACT have transformed the sometimes space-challenged stage into an opulent royal palace through the use of a smartly-designed set decorated with Oriental motifs, gilded trim and lavish curtains. The costumes for the large cast of 28 feature jewel-toned Oriental fabrics, sumptuous period gowns and an ample amount of gold jewelry and headpieces as accents.

All of these details create a perfect ambiance where the shows two main characters, played superbly by husband and wife Tony and Jennifer Jasso, make for a hugely entertaining night at the theatre. In the process, the two leads are surrounded by many other performers who help to make ACT's version of "The King and I" a treat for both the eyes and the ears.

The show is based on the 1944 novel, "Anna and the King of Siam" by Margaret Landon, and the book was derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who actually became governess to the king of Siam (now modern-day Thailand) in the early1860s. The show opened on Broadway in 1951 and the film version came in 1956. Both made Yul Brynner an international star.

The story deals with the experiences of the British schoolteacher, Anna, (Jennifer Jasso) who is hired as part of the King's (Tony Jasso) drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the two is marked by conflict through much of the play, as well as by a love that neither is able to express.

As anyone who has seen either a previous stage version or the movie would expect, Tony Jasso's portrayal of the King is as an iron-willed, powerful monarch who demands respect from his wives, children (all 67 of them) and servants. But he meets his match in Anna, suitably depicted by Jennifer Jasso as a fiercely independent and compassionate widow who bucks his authority.

These two could not have been any better cast. Their natural chemistry in real life translates beautifully in their roles, whether Anna is humorously lowering her head at the King's insistence or teaching him to dance in the crowd-pleasing number, "Shall We Dance."

Ashley Timmreck and Jeffry Kuznicki, Jr. are sweet as the doomed lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha. Their well-sung duos of "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed" are two of the prettiest ballads in the show. Karen Thompson also brings a strong voice and a believability to her role as the head wife of the King, Lady Thiang.

Children always do a lot to up the cuteness factor in most shows, and "The King and I" is no exception. ACT has its share of adorable kids featured in the show, including the young princesses played by Carolyn Kieliszewski, Alexis Meoak, Deanna Meoak, Jade Minton, Elizabeth Sayre, Swasti Shree, and Madison Timmreck. Nicholas Timmreck as the young Crown Prince and Tristan Minton as Anna's young son also add to the enjoyment.

Ed Scott does a good job as the King's prime minister as does Doug Niergarth as Capt. Orton/Sir Edward Ramsey. Playing some of the King's wives, each attired in an elegant Oriental dress, are Breanna Burrone, Amanda Hulsey, Jessica Pearson, Karisa Meier, Kaitlyn Noiles and Margaret Woodruff.

Rounding out the cast are Devon Chisholm as Phra Alack/Interpreter, Matea Torres as Princess Ying Yaowalak, Julie Kieliszewski as the Amazon, J.D. Niergarth as the impressive-looking guard and Lara Torres as another of the King's wives, who performs a delightful fan dance.

The show is filled with many of Rodgers and Hammerstein's easily recognizable tunes, including "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You" and "Hello, Young Lovers." The singing is wonderful across the board as is the musical accompaniment provided by musical director Bunny Lyon and flutist Mary Ann Hubbard.

Remaining performance are today through Sunday and Oct. 24-28, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the box office at 354-3624.



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