Marie Osmond’s prior road-show turn, as a stolid Maria in “The Sound of Music ,” did not raise hopes high for her return vehicle. Yet governess Anna brings out a wholly different, and wholly delightful, performance that’s matched by its top-drawer surrounding production. This “King and I” offers tour-stop auds something they seldom get — a bus-and-truck entity every bit as opulent, tight and thoughtfully performed as the (revival) Broadway staging that hatched it.
Following Hayley Mills’ restrained, stiff-upper-lippy perf, Osmond lends her widow-mother in the mid-19th-century Far East rather more open emotionality — she’s by turns droll, indignant, prim, sly, loyal and flirtatiously flustered. She also nails her upper-class Brit accent. More important, perhaps, Osmond’s soprano has developed into a fine instrument, one that does full justice to the spine-tingling beauty of “Hello, Young Lovers.”
Victor Talmadge (hitherto familiar on local non-musical stages) doesn’t quite ace the solo “Puzzlement” showcase. But elsewhere his Siamese monarch is a deliciously imperious, bratty yet attractive figure, quite distinctive enough to render Yul Brynner comparisons superfluous. These two leads really work well together, making eventual romantic tension credible, while particularly scoring in earlier contest-of-wills comic bits.
Also outstanding in the current cast is Helen Yu, whose eldest royal wife delivers a majestic “Something Wonderful.” Luzviminda Lor and Timothy Ford Murphy make attractive juvenile leads. From the dancing corps (still dazzling in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”) down to the slew of royal kiddies and fine pit ensemble, helmer Christopher Renshaw’s company is spot-on.
Design-wise, this touring edition doesn’t cut corners on what remains one of the most eye-intoxicating musical revivals in recent years. Opening at a newly renovated Orpheum earlier the same week, “Show Boat” stole the media thunder — but you could safely argue that this lesser-hyped evening more exhilaratingly demonstrates road-show packaging at its finest. Of course, having one of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s finest works to package doesn’t hurt.