All that is gold: The King and I opens in Brisbane

Lisa McCune (Anna Leonowens) and ensemble in The King and I .
Lisa McCune (Anna Leonowens) and ensemble in The King and I . Brian Geach

STEPPING into the Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, udiences filed in to take their seats for the Australian premier of The King and I, surrounded by the scent of incense, which somehow managed to waft into every corner of the theatre.

The closed curtain, dotted in gold, was a taste of what was to come in this trademark lavish musical.

As the curtain was raised, the Brisbane stage proudly hosted sets dripping in gold, simply decadent, sumptuous, royally brilliant, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It was a stage set for a king...literally.

John Frost's production of The King and I is the next Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece to be presented by Opera Australia.

It has been 23 years since this production first opened in Australia, and its highly acclaim creative team has been brought back together to recreate the magic.

The songs are back including Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance?

The Tony Award-winning set and costume designs have been meticulously recreated for the Australian tour: there are more than 61,000 Swarovski crystals embedded in the set.

Based on Margaret Landon's 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam, which took its inspiration from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, the show follows the British Governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s.

The Australian tour kicked off in Brisbane on Saturdy night to a packed audience, and did not disappoint.

In the role of Anna, Logie Award-winner Lisa McCune received a round of applause as she stepped on stage in a stunning two-metre-wide hoop skirt, covered with beautiful material.

And her costumes just became more incredible from thereon.

McCune's traditional 1800s dress meant she could barely fit on the small platform of a fishing dock as she set the story line in the opening scenes.

McCune's costumes were not alone in their sumptuousness, with the wardrobe budget one-sixth of the overall $6 million cost of the production.

McCune was perfect in this role. The right age, the right look and that loving, motherly touch that is required to play Anna" was all there.

I want to give a personal congratulations to McCune for her sheer elegance and physicality in manoeuvring these enormous costumes.

Donning six Victorian-era gowns throughout the show, McCune gets up, then down, then lies on the floor, then to top it off, dances across the stage with the king, without falling over! Now that's an achievement.

 Throw in wonderful acting and a great voice and McCune is the triple threat.

 The show reunites her with Teddy Tahu Rhodes, after the pair played romantic leads South Pacific.

Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes star as Anna and The King of Siam.
Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes star as Anna and The King of Siam. Brian Geach

The opera singer has admitted it was intimidating following in the footsteps of Yul Brynner, who originated the role on Broadway and defined it in the 1956 film.

But after seeing this show, it was clear he had nothing to worry about.

Rhodes' performance grew on me as the show carried on. Perhaps it's the complex nature of the character of The King.

Almost a villain, but at the same time a hero, The King is set in his ways, demanding all his wives and servants bow to him; no man or woman should have their head higher than his etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But the King also has a cheeky and playful side, which unravels as Anna teaches him the Western culture and English language...including the word etcetera, which the King takes quite a liking to.

Rhodes was wonderful, humorous and the chemistry between he and McCune was electric.

I was a little worried about the Asian accent at first, concerned it could come off cheesy or mocking the culture almost, but he held it the whole way through.

But let's not forget the smallest, yet most memorable of cast members- the King's brood of children, the princes and princesses of Siam.

Producers have sought out 27 children, most with Asian or Polynesian heritage, to play the King's children and Anna's adoring pupils.

The children's  cast is split into two to meet the demanding schedule. The lineup even includes Sunshine Coast representation in Kai Konuma from Tewantin.

 The children were charming in their traditional costumes, weaving between the glistening sets and peeking under Anna's massive skirt.

 I applaud the blocking here, utilising the King's many wives to pair up with the children to ensure all the scenes run smoothly.

Another standout for me was Chinese-born Australian opera singer Shu-Cheen Yu who plays Lady Thiang, the King's chief wife.

Audiences are truly in for a treat with this production, given the show is presented by Opera Australia.

Yu's voice was stunning and she commanded the stage as the head wife, all the while showing the character still abides by the King's strict rules.

I often enjoying buying programs at productions and The King and I is one of those shows where it is worth picking one up.

It is interesting to see the diverse careers of the actors- Cheen Yu was once a famous folk singer in China, releasing five albums!

 It has been 150 years since Anna met her KIng and still the story continues to touch the hearts of audiences. It is an unusual story in the sense that the love story does not centre on the main characters, rather than on the King's bride "gift" Tuptin (Jenny Liu) and Bermese heartthrob Lun Tha (Adrian Li Donni).

But the love affair with The King and I has truly stood the test of time for audiences across the world.

The season runs until June 1 before heading to Melbourne. Brisbane tickets start from $69.90.

Topics:  lisa mccune the king and i

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