PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 28-July 4: Kelli O'Hara Will "Whistle A Happy Tune" in The King and I

By Robert Simonson
July 4, 2014

Kelli O'Hara is the Rodgers and Hammerstein heroine of the 21st century.



The musical theatre leading lady, who did so well as Nellie Forbush in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific will be back at the Beaumont in 2015 to play Anna Leonowens in a new production of The King and I. Bartlett Sher will direct, as he did for Pacific.

Playing opposite O'Hara in what will forever be thought of as the Yul Brynner role will be Ken Watanabe, making his Broadway debut as the King of Siam. The King and I will begin previews March 12, 2015. The revival will include the original Jerome Robbins choreography, with musical staging by Christopher Gattelli. The original Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations will also be used.

Unlike South Pacific, which hadn't been seen on Broadway since its original staging until LCT brought it back in 2008, The King and I has been a frequent visitor — mainly because Brynner, who knew a meal ticket when he saw it, kept bringing it back. The most recent Broadway production, however, in 1996, starred Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy won her second Tony for the performance.

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An alternate title for The King and I might have been The Many Wives Club. For now, we'll have to make do with The First Wives Club, a new musical adaptation of the 1996 comedy.

The show will premiere in Chicago next spring, prior to an anticipated Broadway arrival during the 2015-16 season, producers announced June 30. The musical will have a new book by Emmy nominee Linda Bloodworth Thomason, the writer best known for the sitcom "Designing Women" and for being an FOB (Friend of Bill Clinton).

Richard Fleeshman

This show has been Broadway-bound in the past. It had its first pre-Broadway premiere in 2009 at the Old Globe in San Diego with director Francesca Zambello at the helm. A Broadway run was never announced, and Zambello withdrew from the production team shortly after the conclusion of the premiere.

Simon Phillips (Love Never Dies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) will now direct the musical that is produced by Elizabeth Williams, Jonas Neilson and Paul Lambert. Thomason has replaced Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains, Say Goodnight Gracie) as the book writer.

The First Wives Club features a score by Motown hit-makers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, the threesome who created hits for Martha and The Vandellas, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and The Supremes.

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Urinetown, a hit on Broadway a decade ago, is a success all over again, overseas.

The musical satire about a dystopian world short on water, received its U.K. premiere at the St. James Theatre earlier this year. It will transfer to the West End's Apollo Theatre, where it will begin performances there Sept. 29.

Jamie Lloyd directs the piece with music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Casting is still to be announced. At the St. James, the company was led by Richard Fleeshman and Jenna Russell as Bobby Strong and Penelope Pennywise, respectively, with Jonathan Slinger as Officer Lockstock.

Kate Arrington in rehearsal
Photo by Joel Moorman

The show was originally produced Off-Broadway before transferring to Broadway's Henry Miller Theatre, where it ran for 965 performances from 2001-2004. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won for Best Book, Best Score and Best Direction.

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In Chicago, playwright Bruce Norris has his latest premiere. Steppenwolf Theatre Company's world-premiere production of The Qualms began previews July 3 prior to an official opening July 13.

Pam MacKinnon directs a cast of nine featuring ensemble member Kate Arrington, Owais Ahmed, Karen Aldridge, Diane Davis, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Keith Kupferer, David Pasquesi, Paul Oakley Stovall and Greg Stuhr.

As the plot description goes, "At a beachside apartment complex, a group of friends gathers for their regular evening of food, drink, drugs and partner-swapping. When Chris and Kristy attempt to become the newest members, the evening does not go as planned." Sounds pretty swinging.

The comedy marks Steppenwolf's eighth production and seventh world premiere by the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning author of Clybourne Park.