The King and I

By Leslie Turner

All right, I admit it. I'm a sap _ a sucker for a sob story _ and a BIG Rodgers and Hammerstein fan. Therefore, it should be no surprise to read that I loved the presentation of "The King and I," playing at Derby Dinner Playhouse through May 24.

It is a surprise, however, that, although I know all the songs by heart and have quoted lines from this classic, I had never before seen the play or understood the story line.

("It's a puzzlement!") There are some who would have you believe "King" to be a politically correct reminder that people everywhere are equally deserving of human dignity and respect, but don't be fooled. This piece is a 100%-true-to-Rodgers & Hammerstein form, no-holds-barred LOVE story and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Jon Huffman portrays the King of Siam (a la Yul Brenner) and quite charmingly at that, although I am afraid it took me three scenes to get over how much he reminds me of Jack Nicholson. He and Colleen Tueth were quite convincing as a couple united in growing love yet separated by inescapable differences. Tueth's lyric vocals helped what could be considered a rather simplistic role, as did her comic timing.

There were a couple of particularly strong areas. Lee Buckholz and Colette Delaney's intense portrayals of two young star-crossed lovers were particularly convincing, as was Rita Thomas' deliverance of the No. 1 wife, Lady Thiang. I also was impressed with the choreography of "The Ballet," a surprising Siamese rendition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Children are always a sure bet crowd-pleaser, as we adults are always so surprised at their acting ability and stage presence (even though they typically put on many a "scene" at home). Those delightful children cast in this production are no exception, and Bobby Ferreri showed strong character consistency as the King's heir to the throne.

I do have some "scientific" suggestions (it's a dirty job, but . . . ). Lose the cape of Tuptim in Scene 2. Her meltingly beautiful soprano was completely dwarfed by the cape's snagging and catching on the stage. Find a way to mike the dialogue more adequately. I understand that this might negate the intrinsic "theatre in the round" experience, but if I can't see their faces, I should at least be able to hear their voices — which was particularly noticeable in Act II, Scene 4, when the King is on the divan. Speaking of that scene, make more of it. After having built the tension so well, that audience should not be let off the hook so easily. I felt cheated.

For the reader, go see it. Family shows are hard to find these days, and this one is high entertainment for all ages, worth the price of the ticket. "The King & I" runs through May 24 at Derby Dinner Playhouse. For ticket information, call (812) 288-8281.

"And Where Were You, Dr. Spock" opens May 26.