Heralded by an advance ticket sale of 7 million pounds (the largest reported in London history), the acclaimed Australian-New York production of THE KING AND I opened - or, to quote Daily Mirror, ""waltzed back to the West End in Triumph"" -- on May 3. Starring Elaine Paige and Jason Scott lee, and ensconced at the legendary Palladium, this production, predicted the Daily Telegraph, ""is going to give a great many people a great deal of pleasure."" Agreed the Times: ""It will probably run for years.""
Originating in Australia in 1991 with Hayley Mills as Anna, this KING AND I subsequently travelled 10,000 miles to Broadway with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips in the title roles (See Happy Talk, Vol. 3, No. 3). In 1996 it won the triple crown of awards -- the Tony, the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle -- for Best Musical Revival, and soon thereafter launched a U.S. National Tour concurrent with its two-year Broadway run..
Hailed by the New York Post as ""a KING AND I for the 21st Century,"" this production ushered in that new century with its London bow. A glittery opening night crown attended the premiere, including Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber (the Palladium's new owner), Lord Jeffrey Archer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Zara Philips (daughers of Princess Anne), novelist Frederick Forsyth and pop star Boy George. Also attending were an R&H contingent lead by Mary Rodgers and Ted Chpain, and former Kings of Siam: London original Hebert Lorn, and Alfons Haider, star of the recent German-Swiss-Austrian tour. Standing ovations, which had begun nightly since the frist preview, greeted the premiere performance, and the celebrations continued at the party that followed, held in the aptly regal setting of the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. Adding sparkle to the evening were critical fireworks of approval.
""A handsome, spectacular, strongly performed introduction to one of the truly great musicals,"" cheered the Financial Times. Concurred the Express: ""Never underestimate the sheer drawing power of Rodgers & Hammerstein .. .This KING AND I is an unstoppable smash."" The Observer critic announced, ""I would like to award it a medal. A gold one, of course, encrusted with jewels.""
While critical accolades described the award-winning sets and costumes as ""sumptuous,"" ""glittering,"" ""lavish,"" and ""the most gobsmacking sight on the London stage since THE LION KING"" (as per the Express), the stars were not lost amidst the splendor. The Guardian applauded the new king, Jason Scott Lee, for his ""authority, poise and good voice,"" while the London Metro hailed his performance as ""a revelation."" As for Mrs. Anna: ""Elaine Paige proves she is the queen of the British stage musical,"" said the Daily Mirror. The Financial Times affirmed, ""She is a true star and a true professional -- you can't take your eyes off of her.""
""There's hardly a more splendid sound to be heard on the West End stage than Paige's second act reprise of ""Hello, Young Lovers,"" wrote Variety: ""Truthful, unshowy, evocative of the true landscape of the show -- the human heart -- traversed by virtually every Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration.""
THE KING AND I is now playing at the London Palladium ... For schedule and ticket information, call the box office (from the USA) at 011-44-207-494-5030, or visit www.thekingandi.co.uk. The '00 London cast album will be released on the Warners label this summer."