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A Regal Revival: ‘The King and I’ returns to Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre


The iconic “Shall We Dance” scene of the Tony-Award winning musical “The King and I” sparks excited murmurs that ripple among Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s audience as King Mongkut of Siam pulls British school teacher Anna Leonowens in by her waist to dance.

Anna, played by Hannah Louise Fernandes, and her rose gold gown glisten under the red stage lights. Her neckline’s beading and hoop skirt sway as she and the King, played by Jae Woo, command the stage during their Beef & Boards debut. Their polka dance captivates the production’s audience in applause as they circle the theater’s intimate stage resembling the King’s palace library.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical makes a standout return to Beef & Boards for the first time since 2001. Director Brian Jose’s production acknowledges Anna’s Anglo-Indian descent, shifting the musical’s narrative away from colonialism toward a complex story of a woman suppressing her culture to advance in society as a single mother.

Fernandes’ Anna is strong-willed and resolute, yet compassionate and romantic as she empowers the Royal Wives and their children in her classroom. Fernandes showcases all of Anna’s qualities through her warm, crystal-clear voice. Like the Royal Wives, I hang onto every one of Fernandes’ words during “Hello, Young Lovers.” When DJ Dancler — a student at Eagle Elementary School in Brownsburg — joins her on stage as Anna’s curious son Louis, I am touched by their tender conversations. During “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” Fernandes’ fiery yet disciplined singing enthralls me as she throws jabs at the King’s arrogant, sexist behavior toward her and his wives.

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Nathalie Cruz plays Lady Thiang, the King’s head wife, with grace and sophistication as she appeals to Anna’s kindhearted nature, encouraging her to help the stubborn yet troubled King. Cruz’s gentle, melodic voice not only highlights Lady Thiang’s devotion to the King but also her unwavering love and admiration for her flawed husband during her moving rendition of “Something Wonderful.”

While Lady Thiang stays loyal to her King, Tuptim, the King’s newest wife, Tuptim, played by Alice Jihyun Kim, is a courageous young woman who is not afraid to challenge him. Kim’s Tuptim gives me chills whenever she takes the stage. Her voice resonates with a haunting beauty that expresses her character’s grief and hopelessness as she longs for her forbidden lover, Lun Tha played by Yu Hin Bryan Chan. The moment I first hear Bryan’s velvety voice seamlessly intertwining with Kim’s in “We Kiss in a Shadow,” I am filled with anticipation for “I Have Dreamed,” their next stage-stealing duet before their characters attempt to escape the King’s reign.

Woo portrays King Monghut with mischief and humor, inciting laughs from the audience as he sprawls across the stage floor and insists Anna do the same even in her hoop skirt, as her head must never be higher than the King’s. But Woo also conveys a struggling King in “A Puzzlement,” stomping barefoot across the stage and nearly pulling his hair out as he grapples how to be a powerful ruler when he has conflicting beliefs about the world himself. Woo’s portrayal of a headstrong yet vulnerable king stirs empathy from me and helps me understand Anna’s eventual love for King Monghut, despite their vastly different values and ways of living.

Beef & Boards’ “The King and I” honors Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical while discussing the ever timely topic of embracing modernity while respecting tradition. This production pulls at heartstrings, dazzles with vibrant costumes and intricate dances and explores the idea of an imperfect yet steadfast love — a theme that can resonate with us all.

“The King and I” runs through May 19 at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. Tickets range from $55 to $82 and include Chef Larry Stoops’ dinner buffet and select beverages. To purchase tickets online, visit or call Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre Box Office at 317-872-9664.

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