THE KING AND I -- At the Warner throught April 12.
For the curtain call of "The King and I," Yul Brynner stomps slowly down a flight of steps toward the footlights of the Warner Theater, and then stares defiantly at the audience until everybody rises. As a command-it-yourself standing ovation, it is amazingly effective.
Theatergoers would probably jump to their feet voluntarily, out of appreciation and respect for his veteran but still astonishing performance as the King of Siam. But this method makes one understand vividly why, quite aside from the requirements of protocol, the court spends so much time on the floor when he is around. True, there is a symbolic difference between getting up and getting down, but the interesting thing is how either movement can be controlled by his blazing eyes. It reinforces the king's character as a benevolent, if absolute, ruler -- those heads groveling on the palace floor could not have been plotting any threat to his power.
The way Brynner occupies space is a wonder, even to one who was first riveted by it 25 years ago. He plants himself like a colossus, with everyone about swirling to the toss of his head, and when he dances he starts a whirlpool. Patricia Marand as Anna, the English school teacher who dared to challenge his autocracy, is able to stand her ground, one feels, only because of the great volume of her mid-19th century hoop skirt.
The show, as Oscar Hammerstein 2d's son said of another recent Rogers and Hammerstein production, is not a revival because it was never dead. Nor is it being done, revival-style, with a distracting sense of its own old-fashioned charm. It is old-fashioned, in its cultural and political attitudes, but succeeds in settling its own terms strongly enough to carry its own validity.
A special treat, in his richly designed production, is the choreography, which Rebecca West reproduced from the original Jerome Robbins work. Anna and the king's polka, to "Shall We Dance," is sweepigly beautiful, and the Thai version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's book as "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is not only amusing because it is Uncle Tom's Cabin East, but powerful because of the quality of the dance