For some of the smallest members of The King and I company, everything is new. From the giant rehearsal skirt Lisa McCune is wearing to the Swarovski crystal-encrusted set pieces that they are rehearsing on, every aspect of rehearsals is a fascinating introduction to the world of show business.
For others, like the leading lady herself, it’s a familiar feeling: rehearsal skirts, dance lessons, costume fittings and music calls.
Lisa McCune was thrilled to take on her third Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – and her second for Opera Australia, after delighting audiences as Nurse Nellie Forbush in South Pacific last year.
“For me, Rodgers and Hammerstein just tell such great stories,” the Logie Award-winning actress said. “Having done The Sound of Music which was based on a real story and then South Pacific and The King and I which are both based on books: the material is so strong. Then they write this incredible music to cleverly string a show together. It’s just seamless.”
McCune and her co-star Teddy Tahu Rhodes are new to their roles, but plenty of others in the rehearsal room are returning to a production that has marked their lives in some way.
Director Christopher Renshaw is reviving his production more than 20 years after the glittering show premiered at the Adelaide Festival, capturing the feeling of the musical so perfectly that the production went on to tour around the world.
He has reunited with music director Peter Casey, lighting designer Nigel Levings, set designer Brian Thomson, costume designer Roger Kirk, who had already given away most of his original costume sketches for The King and I when he got the call from Renshaw to say Opera Australia and John Frost wanted to revive the production.
Shu-Cheen Yu returns to the production this year as Lady Thiang, 20 years after she first played the slave girl Tuptim.
“It is so important for this show to be back here, as Australia’s relationship with Asia grows and grows,” said the Chinese-born Australian soprano.
“This musical sees us through the history of relations between East and West – from a cultural clash to a cultural merge through trading links to an understanding of cultural differences and finally to an appreciation of different cultures.”
Marty Rhone, who made his name singing pop hits “Denim and Lace” and “Mean Pair of Jeans” also returns to the show, this time performing the role of the Kralahome instead of the lovelorn Lun Tha, who he played beside Yul Brynner at the London Palladium in the mid 1990s.
It’s more than 50 years since Rodgers and Hammerstein first penned The King and I, not knowing they’d created a smash-hit that would outlive them for generations.
In 2014, both the cast and creative team are convinced they’ll have a hit on their hands.
John Frost said this production will be an enhanced version of Renshaw’s opulent 1991 affair. “I know this production will be as magnificent as the original, which is remembered as a milestone in Australian theatrical history.”
Next week, the cast will depart Sydney to begin stage rehearsals at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, before the gala opening in Brisbane on April 15.
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