• Kyodo


Japanese actor Ken Watanabe received scathing remarks about his English skills, although not his acting, as critics reviewed Friday the opening of the Broadway musical “The King and I” in New York.

“His diction is not always coherent,” The New York Times said, while The New York Post called Watanabe’s English “rough.” “His solo turn, ‘A Puzzlement,’ is just that — a garbled mess,” it added.

The Daily News said the 55-year-old actor’s English “is a work in progress, so sometimes his lines and lyrics are blurry.”

The Wall Street Journal said, “His thick Japanese accent is something of a trial in ‘A Puzzlement,’ but that’s the only thing slightly wrong with him.”

Watanabe is well known in the United States for his appearances in Hollywood productions such as “The Last Samurai.” In the classic musical, Watanabe plays the king of Siam, who develops an unexpected bond with his children’s English teacher Anna Leonowens, played by Kelli O’Hara.

His English aside, Watanabe and the show — widely remembered for Yul Brynner playing the king — got largely favorable reviews.

After noting his diction and saying his singing has room to improve, The New York Times added, “But he sure comes across when it really counts,” referring to the “Shall We Dance?” number where Anna teaches the king to dance.

In what begins as a comic exercise, at a certain point, “his voice deepens and he firmly clasps his co-star’s waist. Sex has entered the building,” it said.

The Daily News said, “It’s actually no surprise that grandeur and grace fill each scene and song.”

The New York Post was critical of Watanabe for playing “the ruler broadly, overemphasizing a comic petulance that leaves little room for stately gravitas,” which it said Brynner had nailed.

The show opened Thursday at the Lincoln Center Theater after a roughly one-month preview.

Watanabe spoke about the challenge his English skills face in a musical the day after the first preview show.

“Movies are more forgiving of mistakes, whereas if you make too many mistakes in a musical, you won’t be able to reach the audience,” he told a press conference on March 13.

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