Pinoy actor plays Mongkut in The King and I

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Brian Rivera plays Mongkut, the King of Siam

By Harvey I. Barkin

SAN JOSE – The Sound of Music and The King and I strike a strong chord with many older Filipinos.

Probably because both movies tell the story of two governesses sent to tutor children in far away lands. A generation later, Filipinos who’ve seen both movies would actually see their children’s children ship out overseas to be teachers, nannies and caregivers.

It’s also a pleasant surprise that the Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers’ & Hammerstein’s The King and I casted several Filipino actors in their February 20 – 25 performances at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts.

The Filipino actors included Brian Rivera, Joan Almedilla, Jaden Amistad, Kayla Paige Amistad, Lamae Caparas, Marie Gutierrez, Emilio Ramos, Julius Sermonia, Noah Toledo and CJ Uy.

At the press night performance on February 22, Brian Rivera played King of Siam Mongkut (the role famously played by Yul Brynner in the 1956 movie).

Joan Almedilla was Lady Thiang, Lamae Caparas was Eliza and Julius Sermonia was Simon Legree.

The King and I is the 75th show performed at the Center and coincides with the 75th anniversary of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Broadway collaboration.

The original show in 1951 ran for three years and at that time was the fourth longest running show. Since 1952, the Broadway show won in most categories of the Tony awards and in the best revival almost consistently since 1996. The Lincoln Center Theater Production’s of the King and I won four Tonys in 2015.

Ever since, it has been revived several times in Broadway musicals and in animated and live action movies (a more recent film treatment was the 1999 Anna and the King with Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat as Mongkut to Jodie Foster’s Anna Leonowens.)

Brian Rivera’s role of Mongkut has been played by Rudolf Nureyev, Farley Granger, Herbert Lom, The Night Stalker’s Darren McGavin, Star Trek’s and Hawaii Five-o’s Daniel Dae Kim, Jason Scott Lee and even Lou Diamond Phillips.

Such is the rich story texture and show history of The King and I.

Hearing The March of the Siamese Children again transported you to Anna and the King of Siam author Margaret Landon’s depiction of 1861. When the King of Siam hired an English governess in Singapore to educate his many children and wives as part of his plan to modernize what would one day be Thailand. When politics was simpler, when there was still no “fake news” and some things were still “scientific” and “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera” just seemed to take care of the details.

Hard to believe that Getting to know you was just an add-on song actually re-purposed from South Pacific. But in Act I, Scene 4 of The King and I, the song was just right, like the Do-re-mi scene in The Sound of Music. Some scenes you never forget.

Today’s younger audience would have found little material for a rom-com in the clash of culture and flirtatious dance between very proper English governess Anna Leonowens (here played my Laura Michelle Kelly) and imperious King Mongkut. It’s like your mom and your dad doing things that make you tell them to get a room.

But then doomed lovers Tuptim (played by Q Lim) and Lun Tha (played by Kavin Panmeechao) were on with their soaring aria in I had a dream. After a while of goose bumps, you realize that, centennials or millennials, it’s still true – love is all that matters.

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