Wednesday was a full and active day in Chicago. I spent the morning doing nothing of importance, but somehow filling the hours on Michigan Avenue.The main event Wednesday was a matinee performance of The King & I at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Broadway star Kate Baldwin was the ‘I’, and Paolo Montalban a young but twinkle-eyed ‘King.’
And I was in heaven.
So the Lyric imported a French production design concept, staffed it with Broadway veterans and a few locals, used the stage to the maximum effect, and had a major Broadway music director in the pit. How could this not be stunning?
One of the local reviews said “the grandest stage possible.” Broadway houses just don’t have stages this large, and I marveled over and over at the grandeur of this production, so different in its conception than the Lincoln Center production that’s still running. But little human moments made the show come alive — the King’s roving eyes, Ms. Baldwin’s reaction to barely catching a fluttering fan flying her way, the pout on the Crown Prince’s face when the new map is presented.
Ms. Baldwin is a bit older than Anna is often portrayed, and I like the weight and gravity and occasional flashes of world-weariness that she brought to the role. Her singing was as lovely and moving as ever.
As the King, Mr. Montalban is younger than the monarch is usually cast. To compensate, he brought a humor and sparkle to the role that I had not seen in other productions. (I’m old enough to have seen Yul Brynner’s final national tour in this role, in Kansas City about 30 years ago perhaps?)
Over the years, I’ve attended perhaps ten or more productions of The King & I. This one stole my heart in its urgency, its powerful use of the full stage, and the sheer splendor of the production. And Kate Baldwin? My my my.
The most winning moment? Watch the video, and imagine what all those flower petals looked like during “Shall We Dance?”. Gasps of delight from the audience jumped right into full-out, I-can’t-believe-my-eyes applause.
Meanwhile, in my alone time I’ve been reading in preparation for Atomic at New Line Theatre, which opens in less than four weeks. This article from a 1946 issue of The New Yorker is worth a quiet, sober read. Block out a couple of hours? You’ll need it.
Dinner on Wednesday was a delightful Italian Manhattan, then a Caesar salad, a dish of pasta Amatriciana, and dessert of panna cotta. Since the waiter greeted me in Italian, I spoke poor Italian with him all evening. “Insalate Cesara, per favore, e una piccolo Amatriciana.” We got along just fine.