Julie Andrews, Ben Kingsley, Lea Salonga
In 1951 the incomparable Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner and Dorelta Morrow recorded an exemplary original cast album of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and it’s available on CD (MCA). That said, there are plenty of beguiling moments in this new version with Andrews as the courageous teacher hired to instruct the children of the autocratic King of Siam, played by Kingsley with nearly all of Brynner’s intonations and much of his vigor, musicianship and charm.
Andrews, probably best known for her other pedagogue role, that of Maria in The Sound of Music, has a voice that, in the upper registers at least, has grown heavier, darker—and decidedly richer. Her diction, as always, is Baccarat clear. Not a syllable of the buoyant “Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” goes by unburnished.
As the King’s chief consort, Marilyn Horne brings great wisdom and compassion to “Something Wonderful.” With her soaring soprano, Salonga is utterly ravishing as the King’s newest concubine. But as Salonga’s doomed lover, Peabo Bryson sounds distinctly out of place: He performs numbers like “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in a Shadow” as though they were pop anthems. (Phillips)