The King and I PSA: Mazzie and Kim are Something Wonderful

Mazzie and Kim
Lincoln Center Theater's production of The King and I is will close on June 26. Sales slumped after the original leading lady Kelli O'Hara departed the show. However good word of mouth convinced me to see the second cast last night -- Marin Mazzie as Anna and Daniel Dae Kim as the King of Siam. My reaction: this is a PSA. If you love this musical, if you love Broadway classics, if you love theater, PLEASE snatch up tickets to the remaining shows. I doubt I'll ever see such a dynamic TKAI pairing as Mazzie/Kim in my lifetime. They were simply magical.

 Mazzie and Kim blow the original cast (O'Hara and Watanabe) out of the water in every way. Well maybe not vocal superiority -- Mazzie has a much lower, huskier voice than O'Hara's pure light soprano, and technically it isn't as beautiful of a voice. Watanabe couldn't really sing but neither can Kim. Where the Mazzie/Kim pairing succeeds is acting, timing, and chemistry. They are funnier and more dynamic than O'Hara and Watanabe -- with O'Hara and Watanabe you felt a cordial employer/employee relationship. With Mazzie and Kim sparks fly. TKAI can be rather preachy and naive, with built in ideas about Western superiority and Asian weakness that make one cringe if one remembers that 58,000 Americans and countless numbesr of Vietnamese people lost their lives because of American ignorance and condescension about Asian geography, culture, and politics. Mazzie/Kim take away the cringe factor of the show by the strength of their portrayals.

I'm a big fan of Daniel Dae Kim ever since he was on LOST. His character on LOST was a somewhat stolid hero, but Kim was always watchable and he made nobility interesting (who can forget the time Jin refused to leave the ship without Michael, and thus got blown up?). Kim's portrayal of the King just oozes charisma, sex appeal, humor, so much so that one can totally believe the sexual tension between Anna and the King. Lines that went for nothing with Watanabe drew huge laughs here, like "I build a wall around Siam" (an obvious reference to a certain orange-faced presidential candidate.) Watanabe pronounced words phonetically and never got the nuances of the dialogue: "A Puzzlement' was a disaster. Kim's "A Puzzlement" was a showstopper that garnered a prolonged ovation. Kim's King was so appealing that when he became implacable about Tuptim (a radiant Ashley Park, who has been with the production since the start) the moment was chilling. You felt Anna's disappointment and dismay because the audience felt the same way.

Kim and Mazzie in the emotional farewell, photo @ Paul Kolnik

Mazzie's Anna is different from Kelli's chipper, sweet, butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth portrayal. Mazzie is clearly an experienced woman of the world. It's not just her throaty, husky speaking and singing voice. Her body language is almost masculine -- it resembles Hillary Clinton. A real boss lady type. There were drawbacks to this -- "Getting to Know You" and "Whistle a Happy Tune" felt slightly artificial -- Mazzie exudes such strength that you wouldn't peg her as the type of teacher to sing such homilies. But Mazzie highlighted a lot of the humor and heart of the show the way O'Hara didn't. For instance, at the end of "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You" (usually a moment that makes Anna seem shrewish and whiny) Mazzie delivers the last two lines ("Give us a good kick, your Majesty!/Oh that was good, your Majesty!") while leaning against the bed pole and clearly suggesting the ladies having sexual relations with "Your Majesty." First of all it's funny. Second of all it telegraphs the feelings Anna has developed for the King.

TKAI is one of the rare musicals that gets better in the second act. The "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet, "Shall We Dance," the finale, this stuff practically writes itself. But there have been a lot of improvements since I saw this show in preview. The ballet has gotten sharper, Robbins' iconic choreography more articulated. "Shall We Dance" is now bolstered by the strong chemistry between Mazzie and Kim. When they finally physically touched the audience was pin-drop quiet. I only wish the orchestral arrangements for "Shall We Dance" hadn't been so relentlessly brassy. It takes away from the sweetness and depth of the moment.

The production is still in good shape, with much of the original cast still there.  Jon Viktor Ortiz's Prince Chulalongkorn now delivers his lines with much more assurance. Ashley Park as I said was simply radiant as Tuptim. Only Ruthie Anne Miles' Lady Thiang has become more mannered and less appealing. She glowers too much. Some thing about Bartlett Sher's production still grate -- his love of spare, minimalist sets and fondness for shower curtains to signal scene changes is getting old. (It was in Le Comte OryFiddler on the Roof -- enough!!!) But with the energy of Marin Mazzie and Daniel Dae Kim you barely noticed the scenery. It was a beautiful night at the theater. Go see it while you can!!!


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