Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I" has been enchanting audiences for over 60 years, having first opened on Broadway in 1951, starring Gertrude Lawrence as Anna and Yul Brynner as the King.
Alpena Civic Theatre now is giving local audiences a chance to be enchanted as well with its upcoming production of this long-revered musical, which opens Oct. 17 and runs through Oct. 28. Performances are Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with no senior citizen preview night planned.
ACT's production reunites a director, Chip Lavely, and two performers, leads Jennifer Jasso in the role of Anna, and her husband, Tony, as the King. The three, along with Karen Thompson (head wife, Lady Thiang) and Bunny Lyon (musical director and accompanist), first worked together 10 years ago at Thunder Bay Theatre where Lavely was artistic director and the former Jennifer Gailband had made what she initially thought was a only temporary move to Alpena to become a part of the professional company. While performing on stage at TBT, she met fellow cast mate and local actor Tony Jasso.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Alpena Civic Theatre’s cast for “The King and I” features, kneeling from left, Nicholas Timmreck, Madison Timmreck, Swasti Shree, Alexis Meoak, Jade Minton, Carolyn Kieliszewski, Lara Torres, Matea Torres, Deanna Meoak, Elizabeth Sayre and Triston Minton. Standing from left are Ashley Timmreck, Jeff Kuznicki Jr., Jessica Pearson, Karisa Meier, Doug Niergarth, Breanna Burrone, Ed Scott, Jennifer Jasso, Tony Jasso, Karen Thompson, Devon Chisholm, Margaret Woodruff, Amanda Teehan, Kaitlyn Noiles and Julie Kieliszewski. Missing from the photo is J.D. Niergarth. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. The two fell in love, she nixed her plans to stay in Alpena only a short time and the couple are now married with two young daughters.
"This is special to me in that it's the 10th anniversary of my working with Jen and Tony at TBT where they met and married. 'She Loves Me' was the last show they did together there," said Lavely. "Karen and Tony, Jennifer and Bunny all did 'Cinderella' together. We're so lucky. It's like a reunion doing this show together."
"The King and I" takes place in 1862 Siam, where the King has summoned an English school teacher named Anna Leonowens to serve as the tutor to his many children and wives. In the process of teaching, Anna learns about the people of Siam, and at the same time, the very authoritative king proves hungry for knowledge.
As director, Lavely knew what he wanted for a set and for costumes before the show even went into rehearsals.
"The set was done by the time they got on it," he said. "I like to have sets complete before the cast steps on them so they'll feel comfortable."
His vision was to make the king's palace as opulent as possible. "I tried to make it as glamorous as possible, which it should be if it's a palace," Lavely said.
Doing so proved challenging though since the stage still needed to accommodate a large cast moving around on it and doing full dance numbers like the polka at the end of the show. He also chose to use materials imported from China or Thailand to help dress the set. Likewise, the costumes were selected with shimmering color and opulence in mind.
Lavely is enthused as well about the music and the cast. He considers Rodgers and Hammerstein to be the top show tune team in history.
"Hearing the tunes they wrote for this show make it like an old friend," he said. "There's never been another team in musical theatre history who could touch what they did."
Among his favorite songs in the ACT production are "March of the Siamese Children" because it showcases all of the kids cast in the show. Other well-known songs are "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance?"
"I am so proud of each and every person in the show," Lavely said. "I know audiences are going to have some fond memories of this production."