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Sunday, April 5, 2020

PALM CANYON THEATRE STAGES A CROWD-PLEASING MUSICAL REVIVAL FOR THE HOLIDAYS

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By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

With the Holidays fast approaching Christmas-themed theatre productions abound practically everywhere.  Out here in Southern California’s desert paradise of Palm Springs even this world class tourist destination gets into the spirit of things.

The Palm Canyon Theatre (PCT) now in its twenty-second year of producing quality theatre is staging a revival of one of their signature musicals last seen by PCT audiences 11 years ago.

“The King and I” may not be a typical Christmas musical but it’s hard to resist any Rodgers and Hammerstein production.  With the music of Rodgers and the lyrics and libretto by Hammerstein… well it doesn’t get much better than this.  The locals, and even the out-of-towners who visit Palm Springs, from time to time, may recall earlier musical productions directed, choreographed, and costumed by Derik Shopinski; that also have been delights, such as this current production of “The King and I”.

The PCT stage once again is awash in a colorful and vivid visual feast for the eyes and ears.  Shopinski’s costumes are all designed and sewn by his hand and the hands of his three female assistants: Kathryn Ferguson, Virginia Sulick, and Colleen Walker.  What’s the big deal you might wonder?  Well, the big deal is this production boasts 33 cast members which these days, is a lot of actors, singers, and dancers to dress for a production that is not on Broadway or in a national Touring Company.

Based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, ‘Anna and the King of Siam’, the audience is transported to Siam (now Thailand) of the 1860’s whose enlightened King Mongkut (William Stetz) has employed Anna, a widowed English school teacher to tutor his many Royal children to speak English and the ways of the Western world.  Anna soon learns after arriving at the palace that Siam’s King has absolute power in everything in Siamese life;  especially their troublesome traditions that are foreign and very strange and so different from the English way of life.

The Role of Anna (winningly performed and sung by Se Layne) is a character she was born to play.  Her classically trained voice, lends authenticity and her near flawless British accent, enriches the total on-stage experience. Also the chemistry between actors Layne as Anna and Stetz as the King, is what energizes this production into becoming a charming, poignant story of “East meeting West”, which indeed does occur on the PCT stage and it’s been a learning experience for western Imperialism elsewhere over the last 157 years to the present.

The production also features strong supporting performances from Jovi Olivas as Lady Thiang; Paul Grant as Sir Edward, the British Ambassador and a one-time suitor of Anna; Allegra Angelo as Tuptim, a slave girl from the court of the King of Burma; Ben Van Dijk as Louis, Anna’s son; AJ Fernandez as Prince Chulalongkorn, the King’s son, and Brandy Valentine as Eliza, in the cleverly staged specialty ballet number “The Small House of Uncle Tom”.

With seventeen wonderful musical numbers from Rodgers and Hammerstein, the audience gets to pick their favorites to hum on their way home. The  now Iconic numbers such as “Hello Young Lovers”; “A Puzzlement”; “Getting to Know You”; “We Kiss in the Shadows” to “Something Wonderful”, and “Shall We Dance?” are old friends to revisit for those of a certain age.  Nostalgia can make the world a better place at times.

One of the beauties of this impressive production lies in the execution and dedication of the ensemble cast, most of whom are children who range from six years up to teenagers. They’re always in their on-stage moments, just like their adult fellow actors. Space, however, doesn’t allow for everyone to be listed.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them as an audience. And their names and ’Bio’s are listed in the program too.

The orchestra, under Musical Director and performance pianist Jaci Davis, features David Bronson on Drums, and Larry Holloway on Base (as a result of pianist Davis’ aggressively loud accompaniment, at times, I did have the occasional moment when I couldn’t hear the dialogue of the actors).  But I digress.

In the creative technical department led by director Shopinski, PCT’s Co-Atistic Director and resident scenic and lighting wizard J.W. Layne turns the stage into a Siamese Royal palace, filled with vibrant colors and clever lighting touches.  Props by Tobi Griffin and Marsha Berry, Sound by Sean Seymour, and Spotlight Operations by Danny Hargreaves complete the technical and creative team.

This sparkling production is getting an extra week – beyond PCT’s regular musical production length runs – that allows both young and older patrons to enjoy; as the Christmas Holiday season gets closer will now perform thru Sunday, December 22, 2019.

For tickets and reservation information call the Box Office at 760-323-5123 or go online to www.palmcanyontheatre.org.  Tickets make an excellent holiday gift. You won’t be disappointed you did.

All Photos by Paul Hayashi

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