About halfway through the first act of Playmakers Theater of Covington’s ingratiating, winning community production of “The King and I,” it struck me that, despite some flaws and missteps, cast and audience alike were having a good time the size of one of the king’s elephants.
Husband and wife directors Joel and Paige Rainey simply fill the stage with children of every shape, size and age to help tell Rogers and Hammerstein’s story of the King of Siam and his growing respect, even love, for schoolmistress Anna.
Every child actor was drilled in their steps and completely engaged in their surroundings, resulting in a sea of beaming parents, grandparents and friends rooting for the ensemble.
Those kids lift all boats and inspire their adult counterparts.
For two-plus hours, actors of various levels of skill move through ever popular songs like “Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Getting To Know You” and “Shall We Dance” to create a reminder of why people do theater in the first place.
Whether it was Roswell Pogue’s enthusiastic martinet king, Cara Williams’ lovely turn as Anna or most impressively Katherine Herbert’s striking incarnation of Tuptim, I found myself willing to suspend my disbelief and give over to the pleasures of a cast where no one is paid, few harbor professional illusions, costumes are often provided by the actors, and a joyful experience truly is the ultimate goal.
Now, before you think you’re heading out to Broadway on the North Shore, let me point out “The King and I” has all the attendant, classic problems of community theater.
Transitions often brought the show to a complete halt. There were at least two occasions where the light changes and silence concluding a scene gave the impression that the act had ended.
It’s a safe bet that the time between each of the changes cumulatively added 10 minutes to an already long evening.
Since the experience and maturity of the cast was drawn from a diverse talent pool, actors performed in wildly divergent styles and with various levels of success.
More often than not, the shortcomings of less experienced performers merely produced smiles from the audience, but now and then, they did stop the flow of the production.
Since the music was recorded, the cast, almost to a person, was often unsure how to fill the notes where they were waiting to sing. It was particularly noticeable in duets where actors were required to look into the eyes of a partner.
But those petty problems fail to distract from the overall effect.
Just like the small nation of Siam, the cast and crew of “The King and I” pull together to create a surprisingly polished impression on travelers from afar.
It feels a collective effort full of love and deep commitment for its material, and most importantly, it appears from beginning to end to have been rehearsed with the thought that its audience mattered.
Unlike many professional offerings in the New Orleans region, it is better than it has to be.
And that is a compliment I find myself rarely giving.