"A woman is a female who is human/ Designed for pleasing man, the human male/ A human male is pleased by many women/ And all the rest you hear is fairy tale," sings Joe Theissen, his head shaved and skin painted a dark copper to play the King of Siam. The audience laughs, and cringes. Was that racist and sexist or anti-racist and anti-sexist? Sometimes it's hard to tell—Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical about Anna Leonowens' stint teaching the children of King Mongkut of Siam premiered in 1951, and is very much of its time, balancing squirm-inducing racism, sexism and Orientalism with the creators' typically progressive attitudes about the same.
It's a time capsule from postwar America, and Broadway Rose's extravagant production feels very old-fashioned. It has an enormous cast of more than 50 actors, dancers and assorted children; lush costumes and fanciful scenery (borrowed from a theater in Fullerton); and a rare (in this age of over-synthed musicals) 11-player orchestra. Even the dances are vintage—Amy Beth Frankel has gracefully reproduced Jerome Robbins' original choreography, including the breathtakingly weird, costume-heavy "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet.
There's no shame in this attempt to reproduce 60-year-old success; I've yet to hear anyone argue for a revisionist production of The King and I, and this old warhorse has a lot of fun left in it. Theissen, a performer who embodies charm, gets his best role yet as the glowering, bellowing king, and Amy Jo Halliday is every bit the priggish Victorian schoolmarm (an aside: What juvenile trauma left Rodgers and Hammerstein so obsessed with pushy, singing teachers?). But the best performance on opening night came from opera singer Sarah Kim as Mongkut's head wife, Lady Thiang. The show suffers slightly from the usual troubles that Broadway Rose, a company with ambitions well beyond the means of a small organization, is prone to—a weak actor here and there; buggy mics; volume trouble—but is a laudable undertaking overall. And those costumes are brilliant.
Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard, 620-5262. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes July 25. $20-$35.