The King and I is a royal treat

Jovanni Sy and Barbara Tomasic dazzle in The King and I, on Gateway Theatre
Jovanni Sy and Barbara Tomasic dazzle in The King and I, on Gateway Theatre's MainStage until Dec. 31.
— image credit: David Cooper photo

When someone suggests a dish is "to die for" but it ultimately lacks flavour, the phrase loses punch. Christmas stuffing, for instance, isn't worthy of falling on a sword when Stovetop is just as good.

Unlike bread-filled side dishes, something truly unique is on at Gateway Theatre this holiday season. On stage is the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II classic The King and I. Alas not all yuletide dinners impress, but this production certainly does. It's a royal treat.

This is a 62-year-old Broadway classic. It has a tough time competing with the many great stage musicals that have come along since then—including the more widely loved Rodgers and Hammerstein work, The Sound of Music, but it's still a story beloved by fans for decades.

The King and I takes audiences to 19th century Siam (modern day Thailand). English widow Anna Leonowens and her young son arrive at the royal palace in Bangkok to educate the King's many children. Anna and the King clash, but they also help each other. Mutual respect and appreciation grows. There's some familiar music here: "Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Getting to Know You" come to mind.

As the sports cliche goes, your best players have to be your best players. Gateway succeeds here. Jovanni Sy is marvelous as the King, showing us skill in extracting funny bits from this script. If Sy, appointed Gateway's artistic director last year, needed to put his stamp on Richmond, he's doing it. As Anna, Barbara Tomasic is engaging and believable, with a voice to get lost in.

There's some pleasant surprises in the huge cast of 39, including the musical talents of Rosie Simon (Tuptim) and Justin Daniel Lapena (Lun Tha), who offer nice performances of forbidden lovers. And Nicco Lorenzo Garcia gives us great intensity as the antagonist Kralahome.

At the reins is Chris McGregor—his third consecutive go-round as director of Gateway's traditional December musical. More emotion could set it alight, but McGregor nonetheless guides the cast to a colourful, comical and convincing result.

The King and I

•On at Gateway Theatre until Dec. 31

•Tickets, $30 to $49, at gatewaytheatre.com or the Box Office: 604-270-1812

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