The chief point of interest going into “The King and I” at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre is the presence of Mykel Hill as the King of Siam.
Hill, a fine actor who’s delivered a series of memorable performances, is a splendid king — charismatic, commanding, precise, nuanced. His singing may leave a bit to be desired, but the same could be said of Yul Brynner, who originated the role.
Hill brings humor and passion to the King. Hill isn’t the only actor to deliver a strong performance in this show, but he’s the best.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is a big show in more ways than one. It’s grand in scale and deals with intense emotions. It contains some of the most gorgeous music Richard Rodgers composed and tries to achieve what might be called an elliptical romance by crafting a story of two people from different worlds who fall in love but can never requite their deep feelings.
The MET production falls into two familiar patterns. First, the company has again tackled a large-scale musical with a huge cast that’s beyond its ability to execute satisfactorily. Second, artistic director Karen Paisley, who staged this production, has again cast herself in a major role.
Choosing to direct oneself in a show of this scope would be challenging for the most gifted theater artist. Look around town. How often do you see actors directing themselves in big musicals or Shakespearean plays or any show of scale? The answer is: Never. Paisley is a limited actress and an adequate singer and she simply doesn’t have the chops to pull off a relatively complex role like Anna.
One of the director’s challenges in a show like this is to be a traffic cop. Large numbers of actors are herded on and off stage frequently but never smoothly in this production, which features sharp costumes and minimal sets.
From where I was sitting Thursday night, the sound mix was hit-and-miss. Most of the principals were equipped with wireless mics but too often you couldn’t hear the singers.
A live orchestra was situated in the lobby, so I imagine sound engineering was difficult.
Some supporting players deliver nice performances, particularly Megan Herrera as Tuptim, whose narration in the classic “Small House of Uncle Thomas” sequence makes it an effective piece of dance theater.
Herrera and Matthew King, who plays her lover Lun Tha, have the best voices in the show. Kami Rodgers is outstanding as Lady Thaing, mother of the crown prince. Poised, thoughtful and subtle, Rodgers is consistently impressive.
“The King and I” runs through June 22 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St. Call 816-569-3226 or go to www.metkc.org.