I’ve just watched a new version of “The King and I”, this one subtitled “From the Palladium”. It’s a televised version of the 2018 London stage production, and it aired Friday on PBS’s Great Performances. I found it unexpectedly marvelous as it was never one of my favourite musicals. However, I sat riveted to my sofa for the whole two hours, revelling in the freshness of the production, the music, the cultural sensitivity, the costumes, the humour, the wonderful acting, singing and dancing. There’s nothing like the London or Broadway stage to breathe new life into “old chestnut” musicals from the 40s and 50s.
However, a strange thing happened to me while watching this performance. During a song I hadn’t even remembered, I suddenly began to cry volubly, startling myself. What on earth was going on? The song was “Something Wonderful”, sung by the King’s “head wife”, Lady Thiang, to Anna, exhorting her to love the irascible King despite his many faults and revealing her own love for him in the process. It’s a profound moment.
I suppose the song triggered my tears on several levels. First of all, Ruthie Ann Miles’ passionate rendition set off goosebumps. Her voice is strong, clear and measured, the lyric even more poignant given that Miles had lost a loved one – her daughter – in a car crash only the year before. Did she think of her daughter as she sang about unconditional love? After all, the word “man” is easily replaced:
This is a man who thinks with his heart
His heart is not always wise
This is a man who stumbles and falls
But this is a man who tries
This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive,
And help protect, as long as you live…
He will not always say
What you would have him say,
But now and then he’ll do
A second reason for my tears was the strong reminder of my father it triggered. He died in 1992, but for various reasons, I didn’t grieve him properly at the time. Dad loved musicals, his favourite being “Brigadoon”. I remember sitting in a high school audience with him as a teenager, surrounded by my whole family, watching him delight in such songs as “Waitin’ for my Dearie” and “Go Home With Bonnie Jean”. His happiness fueled my own, as I adored him, looked up to him. At that time, Burnaby South Secondary School was noted for its music program, and it was Dad’s friend and colleague, Laurie Lynes, who had been responsible for building it. Dad would have been happy about his friend’s success. I know because he bought the official Broadway album soon after and played it often around the house. Today’s musical brought on an overdue grief.
And finally, of course, I cried out of my present grief, the loss of my wonderful husband eight months ago. His unconditional love for me was the stuff of legend and a constant source of my gratitude.
So I sniffled and wept throughout most of today’s TV performance. Given such a strong and unexpected reaction, I wonder if I could remain composed through any version of “Brigadoon” should it reappear on TV