JULY 2017





By Mariano “Anong” Santos
PINOY Editor/Publisher

 

..."Fil-Am actor, Jose Llana, underscores the relevance of “The King and I”


...continued from home page

 

right pic: Fil-Am Actress Joan Almedilla plays Lady Thian, the first wife of the king, shown singing “Something Wonderful.” (Contributed)

Llana and his family left their home in the City of Marikina with his parents in 1979 when he was only three. It was the sixth year of the martial law regime of Marcos. Although his parents were originally from Ilocos Sur, his mother was an activist in college opposing the militarization of the Philippines. He grew up in Springfield, Virginia where he finished high school.

During his first year at Manhattan School of Music, he auditioned for the 1996 revival of “The King and I” and won the role of the star-crossed lover, LunTha, singing two of the favorites, “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed,” which he recorded later. Another Filipino American actor was then playing the title role of the king—Lou Diamond Phillips.

Twenty years later in 2015, Llana succeeded famous actor, Ken Watanabe, in the role of King of Siam in the Lincoln Center’s revival of “The King and I,” which would win four major Tony Awards—including Best Musical revival. Llana got rave reviews for his role and went on to perform in New York for 11 weeks. When the production went on the road, Llana was the first choice to play the King.

In its winter debut at Hollywood Pantages Theater, Los Angeles critic, Deborah Wilker, wrote: “Because the late Yul Brynner inhabited this role so completely on stage and screen for more than 30 years, it became something close to folly for an actor even to try to do his own thing in the part. But Llana is a force, and his tormented, relatable King is another reason this evening is so dreamy.”

How true. I’ve seen last year a revival at the Chicago Lyric Opera with another Filipino American actor, Paolo Montalban, playing the king. While the stage of the Lyric is far much larger than the Oriental Theater in the Chicago Loop and the capacity of the latter is just about the third of the Lyric’s, the current production is more innovative and engaging—no longer feeling like you are watching a reprise of the Century 20th Fox 1956 film version, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner who won a Best Actor Oscar award for his role.

A non-musical version of “Anna and the King of Siam” based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 book on Anna Leonowens’ diary came out in 1946 with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison in the tile roles. Jodie Foster and Chow Yum-fat starred in the 1999 version, “Anna and the King.”

Aside from Llana , no fewer than a dozen Filipino Americans are part of the cast assembled by the able director, Bartlett Sher. You’ll never forget Joan Almedilla, playing Lady Thian, the king’s premier wife, singing “Something Wonderful,” authoritatively sweet, knowing she is the mother of the heir apparent, Prince Chulalongkorn.

The play runs a little under three hours but feels just like a moment, making one feel ready for one more delightful song. But then Llana, perfectly matched with Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna, leaves one humming and whistling “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance,” “Getting to Know You” and all the lovely and happy tunes --long after the final curtain call.

 

 

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