Those of us of a certain age had seen the film and heard the music, so we had a pretty fair idea of what we were coming for.
Escapism. A rom-com, where the romance is in the journey not the ending. Pretty children, and a stern but loving governess. Victorian rectitudes meeting Siamese traditions. Paternalism and rigid hierarchies ready for a fall. And all safely in the past, so we do not have to confront the fact that the attitudes on stage – from both British colonialism and Siamese totalitarianism – would be a very awkward fit in today's world.
From the moment of our arrival in the auditorium, theatre wove its magic. No mere curtains at the front of the stage. Tall intricately woven panels, richly red, and gold. A scent of incense, and sets and costumes which must have cost a fortune.
The fantasy world of 19th Century Siam allows free reign to the designer, and many silk worms must have given their all to cover the massive hooped dresses, that in a concession to a later age, revealed rather more than was probably usual two hundred years ago. Lisa McCune's cream silk dress deserved star billing all by itself, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes' toned physique provided alternative eye candy. The evening stands or falls on those two – and clearly, whatever the truth about their off-stage relationship, their chemistry was working well on stage. McCune can act. That we know. What we might not have realised was just how well she can sing. Teddy Tahu Rhodes showcased a speaking voice as resonant as Robeson's. He can sing. That we know. But clearly he can also act.
And then there were the dances. Real Asian dancers weaving oriental magic. Children – well trained but not regimented – clearly delighting in their power to entertain, and steal the show. A ballet (was it called "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" in the film – I can't remember) that, while sending itself up on one level, was magical on another.
And the songs – "Getting to Know You", "Whistle a Happy Tune", "Hello Young Lovers", "Something Wonderful" and "Shall We Dance?"
Escapism – certainly. But world-class.
If it is a musical like the "King and I" that you come to see, you will find it almost impossible to see a better production than this one
____________________________________________ The King and I is at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane, until 1 June 2014. It then travels to Melbourne (from 10 June) and Sydney (from 7 September). Brisbane tickets are available at qpac.com.au