`The King and I' boosts a flagging Broadway season

The King and I Musical comedy by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics), based on ``Anna and the King of Siam,'' by Margaret Landon. Starring Yul Brynner. Produced and directed by Mitch Leigh. Rodgers and Hammerstein and the King of Siam have come to the rescue of a Broadway season badly in need of rescuers. The limited-engagement revival of ``The King and I,'' at the Broadway Theatre, places Yul Brynner back on the throne he first occupied 33 years ago when the Saimese adventures of Victorian schoolteacher Anna Leonowens first became a part of Broadway lyric theater legend. With Mr. Brynner the absolute monarch of all he surveys, and with a sumptuous production to celebrate the occasion, ``The King and I'' returns as a triumphant example of an American lyric theater classic.

The score overflows with lush Rodgers melodies and lilting Hammerstein lyrics. The pleasures begin with ``I Whistle a Happy Tune'' and reach their climax with ``Shall We Dance,'' the exuberant duet in which Anna and the king resolve their differences in a polka and intimate, but never express, their deeper feelings.

Such tender elements are among the reasons for the work's enduring appeal. In the latest edition of ``The World of Musical Comedy'' (Da Capo), Stanley Green recalls something Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote about the relationship between the prim but plucky Victorian widow and the volatile Oriental potentate:

``The intangibility of their strange union was a challenge to us as librettist and composer. In dealing with them musically, we could not write songs which said, `I love him' or `I love her.' We were dealing with two characters who could indulge themselves only in oblique expressions of feeling for each other, since they themselves do not realize exactly what these feelings mean.''

Mr. Brynner's once and future king and Mary Beth Peil as the latest Mrs. Anna convey the subtleties as well as the more obvious comic aspects of a contest in which both characters somehow emerge as winners. Mr. Brynner is the brusque tryant who mingles subtlety, cruelty, and arrogance with simplicity, vulnerability, and a saving comic sense. As the dominant figure of palace life, Mr. Brynner proves once his right to Broadway kingship.

Besides the attractive Miss Peil herself, principal singing roles are admirably performed by Patricia Welch and Sol Provenza as the doomed young lovers and Irma-Estel LaGuerre, whose lustrous voice and ardor make Lady Thaing's ``Something Wonderful'' the moving declaration it should be. With numbers like ``Hello, Young Lovers,'' ``Getting to Know You,'' and `` We Kiss in a Shadow,'' the score is a constant reminder of the lasting Rodgers and Hammerstein legacy.

The first act's irresistible ``March of the Siamese Children'' and the second act's captivating ballet, ``The Small House of Uncle Thomas,'' have, like the other dance movements, been faithfully reproduced by Rebecca West from the original Jerome Robbins choreography. Kathy Lee Brynner, Hope Sogawa, Evelina Deocares, Deborah Harada, Patricia Weber, and Miss West are the excellent principals.

``The King and I'' reflects the inspirations of an earlier musical-theater style as well as a more sentimental and hopeful view of life. But its humane sentiments about teaching and learning are still valid. If the approach seems at times overcalculated and even arch in a more cynical age, the story's audience appeal remains as strong as ever.

Responding to the intrinsic idealism is a cast that includes Jeffrey Bryan Davis as Anna's manly young son, Araby Abaya as the Siamese princeling, Jonathan Farwell as the implacable Kralahone, Edward Crotty as the duly British impressed ambassador, and Burt Edwards as the captain whose ship transports Anna to Bangkok for her 1860s adventures.

The handsome revival was staged by producer Mitch Leigh with scenery by Peter Wolf, costumes by Stanley Simmons (based on the Irene Sharaff originals), and lighting by Ruth Roberts. The first-rate musical performance has been directed by Richard Parrinello.

For certain external reasons, ``Dancing in the End Zone'' is not just another Broadway opening. In an effort to solve some of the current theater's economic problems, producer Morton Gottleib has made certain arrangements (including a reduction in the Ritz Theatre's seating capacity) which result in lower box-office prices. It is a bold and welcome innovation. Whether or not Bill C. Davis's new comedy is the play to test the experiment remains to be seen. The author of the successful ``Mass Appeal'' and other plays has come up with a complicated comedy which employs college football as a metaphor for war and even sex. The sport and its attendant practices come under direct assault when coach Dick Biehn (Laurence Luckinbill) engages attractive graduate student Jan Morrison (Dorothy Lyman) to tutor football star Jim Bernard (Matt Salinger).

A budding investigative reporter, Jan already has been the anonymous source of an expos'e of ``gift grades'' to athletes at the Midwestern institution. The revelation in the campus paper has been picked up by the UPI and received national attention. The enterprising, if devious, Jan is now going after the sport itself, using an incredibly naive Jim Bernard for her purposes.

The star quarterback has been receiving Novocain injections to deaden the pain of an injured knee. Jan has collected letters from some of Biehn's former footballers who have suffered lasting aftereffects from the painkillers that kept them playing. Jim joins Jan's crusade and quits football. The situation is further complicated for the innocent quarterback by the recent arrival of his adoptive mother, Madeleine (Pat Carroll), a wheel-chair invalid. Madeleine immediately launches a verbal campaign against both coach and tutor.

Mr. Salinger plays the role of Jim with an acceptable boyish charm that can make the handsome hero's naive immaturity both funny and touching. Miss Carroll and Mr. Luckinbill act the script's seasoned battlers like the seasoned troupers they are, while Miss Lyman does what she can with a role that is supposed to combine feminist determination with romantic interest. But ``Dancing in the End Zone'' is one of those psychological probings in which it can be difficult to follow the game without a Freudian score card.

The production has been staged by Melvin Bernhardt with an appreciation for its sharp observation and frequently amusing dialogue. Douglas W. Schmidt's neutral setting, an abstract arrangement of stadium-like tiers, suits a presentation that combines realism with stylization. The title, by the way, refers to Jim's end-zone cavortings after he has scored a touchdown. According to Jan, they express a latent, sublimated terpsichorean urge.

Patricia McGourty costumed the production. Dennis Parichy created the atmospheric lighting.

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