The inaugural season of the reopened Thomaston Opera House continued last night with the opening of the classic musical The King and I. The house was almost full and at least two other theatre critics were seated in close proximity. The amazing theatre pipe organ was being expertly played by Juan Cardona Jr. as we were shown to our seats by a helpful usher, and he continued to do so until Executive Director Jeffrey P. Dunn appeared on the stage for some brief announcements.
The King and I by Rogers and Hammerstein is based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens and focuses on her relationship with the King of Siam. Her interactions with the supporting players make the show even more charming. Director Lucia Dressel has carefully selected a strong cast to flesh out each and every part.
The set is absolutely perfect; designed by David Verdosci and built by Master Carpenter Mark Rees, the Opera House stage has been transformed to a Siamese palace. Josh Peterson has lit it to match, and worked out a fireworks display to boot. And then there are the costumes designed by Renee Purdy, each one more sumptuous than the next. I couldn't wait to see what "Mrs. Anna" would wear next, but "Tuptim's" ensembles were equally impressive. There was a bit of a sound issue at one point in this performance and I wished that the seven-piece orchestra had been stronger.
This is a large cast, but not so much that they overwhelmed the stage. There were enough children of all sizes to make the point that the king had a large number of offspring and they were quite adorable in their march. Not surprisingly, many of the younger members of the cast are students at the Waterbury Arts Magnet (WAMS.) The wives and ladies in waiting were numerous and maternal; Jamie Hatcher as Lady Thiang has a lovely voice and stage presence. Joe Bukowski as The Kralahome is also a strong presence on the stage. I also liked the interplay between Ian Pekar in the role of "Anna's" son "Louis" and the crown prince, played by John Paul Henares.
The leads are both very good. The accomplished Cristin Tillinghast shines in the role of "Anna;" she makes her fiesty and (not too) sweet while singing the classic numbers in a fine voice. She is equally matched by Richard Damaso as the king; blustery and not without self-doubt, he commands the audience's attention. The young lovers of "Tuptim" and "Luntha" are expertly played by the lovely Katie Brunetto and Daniel Dressel. She sounds amazing and sports the best wig ever and he has the voice and charm to carry off the role of a young man in love. He thanks "his mother for being a superior director." I would have to agree.
Finally, I must mention the beautiful ballet that comes in the second act. Beautifully choreographed by Caitlin Barra and featuring dancers that had other things to do in the show, this was very well done. Some standouts for me were Amy Ferrotti as "Eva," Lily and Joel Orelup as "Eliza/Wife" and "Simon of Legre" respectively and the choreographer as the "Angel." The uncredited chorus for the ballet was also excellent and included a gong player.
Overall, this is a fine production of a classic show. I loved silently singing along to the beautiful songs in the score. Eighteen scenes make for a long evening, but I was glad that the curtain calls allowed us to acknowledge every performer. The show runs two more weekends in the historic Thomaston Opera House.