One expected to find Rudolf Nureyev's name above the title in the program for "The King and I" at Segerstrom Hall in the Orange County Performing Arts Center. One did not expect to find his name printed half-again as large as the title: NUREYEV in "The King and I."
The implication was that the immortal NUREYEV had graciously consented to descend from the realm of "serious" dance in order to shed his magic on a workaday form, the American musical.
What the evening actually proves is that a star's charisma can be lost when he transfers from one performance medium to another, even when the second medium appears to offer a lesser challenge.
From his first entrance at Segerstrom Hall, it's clear that Nureyev has had to develop a whole new set of reflexes in order to deal with a major singing and acting role, and that these reflexes are by no means in place.
Nureyev fails to fill the stage. We might not expect him to project the kind of fierce concentration that goes with being the King of Siam, ever-besieged with "puzzlements"--but we do expect him to command the eye. He does not.
Liz Robertson as Anna does her best to bring Nureyev's King to life, but doesn't really succeed even in bringing her own character to life; and behind them a mediocre ensemble goes through the motions.
At its best, this "King and I" is museum theater. At its worst, it's warehouse theater.
A complete review of "The King and I" will appear in Thursday's Calendar section.