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New isn't always better, and The King and I is exhibit A

Barge in to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and convince the curators that Dali's "Persistence of Memory" needs to be updated.

Such a ridiculous idea is offensive to Martile Rowland, the artistic director and founder of Opera Theatre of the Rockies. Her troupe's current production of The King and I subscribes to the same sentiment.

What makes this interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical different from the rest is its adherence to the original. That's purposeful: Rowland says that themes such as complicated relationships, slavery and resistance to cultural education are just as relevant today as they ever were. The illusion she hopes to dispel, in fact, is that things have gotten better. The careful ballet between the king's machismo and Anna's progressive views are revelatory to the audience. "This is how relationships are, have been and always will be," Rowland says.

The musical is based in 19th-century Siam, now Thailand, under the rule of King Mongkut. It is single mother and teacher Anna Leonowens' duty to educate the king's many children in the ways of the West. "Western People Funny," a song and dance number usually cut from most productions, is being reintroduced. Director Steven LaCosse includes it because it is about dressing the so-called undignified people in new modern clothes against their will.

"Usually the more civilized country tries to go into the perceived less-evolved culture and change it," LaCosse says. "These people can't figure out why they would do this to them. They don't think that anything is wrong with themselves."

LaCosse believes that the hubris of the United States is an overwhelming shortcoming. "We are a great country," he says. "However, our way is not the only way to be, and trying to be accepting of people that are different is one of the themes of the show."

Portraying heroine Anna is veteran singer Solveig Olsen. She strongly urges the military folk of Colorado Springs to attend, saying they will relate to the patience and understanding needed during such clashes in culture.

Rowland spared no expense musically to express such themes. The original score — which she describes as "magnificent" — has details that represent very specific Asian ideas. And to top it all off, they won't be using microphones. After all, that's what traditional opera's all about.

"If it is different, crazy and naked, then it must mean that it's up-to-date and fabulous. Bull! I say bull!" Rowland exclaims. "Nobody will be bored with the original story if you lift it off the page, enliven it and infuse it with your creative spirit and care."

scene@csindy.com

  • New isn't always better, and The King and I is exhibit A

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