I don’t think I will ever do an­other mu­si­cal. There won’t be a role that will ever fit me as well

Leicester Mercury - - Spotlight -

You had never done a mu­si­cal be­fore The King And I. What was the big­gest chal­lenge?

IN the be­gin­ning, I had no con­fi­dence that I would be able to do a mu­si­cal at all. Dur­ing the re­hearsal pe­riod to the open­ing of the Broad­way run, I was shocked by how much I learned and grew as a per­former and this gave me con­fi­dence. It is very dif­fer­ent from films be­cause there is no room for any di­a­logue er­ror when you’re in front of a live au­di­ence. I had to learn do­ing the­atre in English from scratch. I don’t think I will ever do an­other mu­si­cal af­ter The King and I be­cause there won’t be an­other role that will ever fit me as well.

Do you have any pre-show ri­tu­als?

BE­FORE ev­ery per­for­mance I pray to the god of the­atre for the suc­cess of each show and for the safety and health of the cast and crew.

Do you have a favourite song in the show?

THE whole Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein score is mag­i­cal, but my favourite songs are Hello Young Lovers and Some­thing Won­der­ful. Lis­ten­ing to these two songs from close range was a perk of be­ing King.

What is your strong­est mem­ory of the Broad­way open­ing night?

SADLY I had a high fever so I wasn’t able to en­joy it. How­ever, I was able to ap­proach the West End open­ing with more ease and I was so ex­cited and ner­vous. We had two shows the day af­ter so I wasn’t able to fully en­joy the af­ter-party. I had to make sure to leave a lit­tle early to rest my body for the next per­for­mances.

What was it like re­turn­ing to the role of the King and work­ing with your co-star Kelli O’Hara again?

I HEARD about the show mov­ing to Lon­don to­wards the end of my run in New York. Af­ter com­ing back to do the show a sec­ond time on Broad­way, I re­alised how much I didn’t want this jour­ney to be over. So in that sense, I am grate­ful I was given an­other chance to play the King. Ev­ery show with Kelli felt like we were fenc­ing. It was so much fun and also very thrilling. I was a lit­tle bit ner­vous about per­form­ing to a Lon­don au­di­ence, but they were in­cred­i­ble and re­ally en­joyed the show – es­pe­cially on the week­ends. Many peo­ple have a drink or two be­fore the show and it felt like their laugh­ter was no­tice­ably louder. I imag­ined this has not changed since the days of Shake­speare.

What do you be­lieve is the en­dur­ing ap­peal of the mu­si­cal?

AT the very core of this story is the theme that re­gard­less of coun­try, race, sex, age, and pro­fes­sion, peo­ple can come to un­der­stand and re­spect each other. This theme is why peo­ple can re­late to the story. The world is now faced with new so­cial is­sues, so we al­ways found ways to keep our show rel­e­vant and fresh.

Is it tricky work­ing with so many chil­dren?

THEY are all so pro­fes­sional, so it wasn’t too dif­fer­ent from work­ing with the adults to be hon­est. All the kids re­spected me as the King so it was easy for me to be nat­u­ral with them on and off stage.

How did you ap­proach play­ing the King of Siam?

WHILE be­ing un­der con­stant pres­sure and threat of col­o­niza­tion from western pow­ers, the King had a sense of mis­sion for his coun­try to progress and mod­ern­ize. How­ever, there were many things that he could not come to ac­cept or un­der­stand be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tion he re­ceived. He also un­der­stood that Thai­land would not fully progress to the same level of other mod­ern coun­tries un­til he re­lin­quished his power to the next gen­er­a­tion. His death was re­quired in or­der for his coun­try to change dras­ti­cally. This mis­sion was a lonely and dif­fi­cult process that few un­der­stood.

You have worked on many Hol­ly­wood block­busters and The King And I will be seen in cin­e­mas later this month. What was it like film­ing the stage pro­duc­tion?

FILM­ING for cin­e­mas was such an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. We filmed over sev­eral nights with a live au­di­ence of thou­sands each time – which is very dif­fer­ent com­pared to film­ing a scene on a movie set. I tried to keep the in­ten­sity and sense of drama that ev­ery live show had.

How do you feel about hav­ing your per­for­mance pre­served on the big screen for peo­ple to en­joy all over the world?

IT’S such an hon­our that we’ve been able to film this pro­duc­tion and now au­di­ences around the world can en­joy it for them­selves and see the pas­sion of our won­der­ful cast on the big screen. I’ll prob­a­bly be so ner­vous though that I don’t think I’ll be able to en­joy watch­ing it my­self.

■ The King and I: From The Pal­la­dium can be seen in cin­e­mas on Thurs­day, Novem­ber 29. For tick­ets and venues go to kingandimu­si­cal­cin­ema.com

Ken on stage with Kelli O’Hara Ken Watan­abe as the King of Siam in the Lon­don pro­duc­tion of The King And I

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