"This is musical theatre with elements of comedy, drama, dance," said Trevor Jugmohan, producer of the upcoming production The King and I. "Not only is this a grand musical, but it set a benchmark for all musicals that have been staged on Broadway."
In an interview with Jugmohan in late March, the Sunday Arts Section got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at this musical project.
The King and I is derived from Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam. It is the fifth musical by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II and was later adapted to the 1956 film version, for which lead actor Yul Brynner (The King) won the Best Actor Oscar.
Jugmohan's company is called First Instinct; it was founded in 2009 and last year staged The Sound of Music, another beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
"After the Sound of Music in 2012, First Instinct was intent on building a reputation for quality theatre in T&T and, more so, quality family entertainment. The King and I was the choice of our executive producer, John Smith, who intended to raise the bar even higher than the one set with our previous production."
Jugmohan said the casting process incorporated actors who had been with the company in the Sound of Music, along with those gleaned from an open casting call advertised in the daily newspapers as well as on Facebook.com. "The quality of young, talented, vibrant performers was overwhelming. It was a hard decision to attempt to place all worthy participants. So hard, in fact, we double-cast and placed understudies under several characters, thus accommodating the best of the best."
The players include lead actor Conrad Parris as the King of Siam; Tova Miller as Anna Leonowens; and Germaine Wilson and Patti-Anne Ali sharing the role of Lady Thiang, the King's chief wife. The supporting cast includes Chris Smith as Kralahome and Rais Clarke-Mendes as the King's newest wife Tup Tim. Her secret love interest is Lun Tha, played by Charles Reid and Christian Roberts.
Raymond Choo Kong will direct the show.
"Raymond has been my friend and mentor for the past eight years and when I approached John with the idea of producing theatre in 2012, we could think of no one better suited. Raymond has directed it all in theatre, from drama like Mary Could Dance, to comedy–Norman is that You–and he has had hands-on experience with large-scale musicals, such as the Wizard of Oz and the Little Mermaid," Jugmohan said.
At a rehearsal last week, Choo Kong was caught whistling a lively tune along with the actors as they were put through their paces. When asked about his role as director, Choo Kong said he was seeking out new challenges in theatre. "I am trying to move away from performing to do more directing and training."
During a break he shared a bit more about his experience in musical theatre. "I do different types of theatre, and doing musicals takes me back to training in the tent"–refering to Helen Camps' Tent Theatre of the 1980s, where many a Trinidadian thespian cut her or his teeth.
"There are certain fundamentals and foundations that remain. I've also worked with children before. With them there is usually a lot of work to be done and indiscipline to be quelled. But music makes it easier and they audition, so they know what they are getting into and what is required."
The musical team for The King and I comprises Gregory Wong Fo Sue, an accomplished pianist/keyboardist and Loraine Granderson, music teacher and choir director at Bishop Anstey High School, Port-of-Spain. The musical accompaniment will include the Bishop Anstey High School Choir and Steel Ensemble, and percussionist Everald "Redman" Watson, along with two french horns and one oboist, creating a distinctive classical/local combination.
The technical crew includes Gregory Singh, stage manager; Bente Lashley, lighting; Treldon Thompson, sound; and Christopher Smith, production manager. Choreography will be done by Abeo Jackson along with master dancer, choreographer and tutor Dr Sat Balkaransingh. Costume designer is Margaret Sheppard and set designer is Randal Halfhide.– Janine Charles-Farray
The King and I opens at NAPA, Port-of-Spain, with a gala on April 25 and public performances through April 28. There will also be special performances for schools, as well as a South gala at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando on May 15 with public performances up to May 18. A final run will take place at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, from May 29-June 2.