Wednesday , August 13, 2014 - 12:00 AM
Heritage Community Theatre offers something a little different in the world of musicals with “The King and I,” based on the 1860s story of the relationship between a British school teacher named Anna and the King of Siam.
“I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done locally in awhile,” said director Ryan Erwin. “It is different from pretty much every other musical theater piece. There is a large ensemble, but it is not used a lot. It is focused more on the story and the five or six main characters.”
Erwin, of Brigham City, is a senior studying theater education at Utah State University. At 22, he is the second youngest director in Heritage Theatre’s history.
He believes the production is fantastic because of the cast of 66. Twenty-one are children portraying the large family of King Mongkut, who had multiple wives. The group includes several families. There are experienced actors and people brand new to the stage working together.
“There is no ego in our cast,” Erwin said. “We are all one big family. The show is coming together because I have an amazing cast and lots of people who really want the show to succeed.”
The youngest cast member is 4-year-old Ragen Jeffs, of Clinton.
“Audiences are going to love her,” Erwin predicted. Her mother, Camilla Jeffs, plays the king’s head wife.
The handful of characters with speaking parts are the focus of the show, and serve to move the story along.
“It centralizes on the core characters,” Erwin said. “Everyone else comes and goes.”
In 1862, King Mongkut was trying to modernize his country. Britain had its eye on Siam as a barbaric society in need of a protectorate. In an effort to seem more Westernized, he recruited Anna, a widowed schoolteacher, to tutor his family.
In the show, based on Anna Leonowens’ written accounts, both characters are extremely headstrong and their personalities clash. The king thinks Anna should obey him the way his servants do, but Anna has other ideas about how to conduct herself.
“They are both imperfect people trying to be perfect,” Erwin said. “For example, slavery is clearly bad. But, for Anna, as a foreigner, to come in and say ‘you are doing everything wrong’ shows a lack of respect. We all have flaws.”
Through the course of the show, the two characters slowly come to understand each other better. Just as the relationship is becoming less tumultuous, a British envoy shows up to make a report back to England.
Anna has gained enough of the king’s trust to be allowed give advice. She helps the wives dress in hoop skirts, the Western fashion of the day, to make a good impression.
“I believe audiences will be blown away by Anna,” Erwin said. “She is a fifth grade teacher at South Weber Elementary in real life. She knows how to interact with the kids in a role as a teacher. Her genuine love for them can be felt. She sings and acts beautifully. She is phenomenal.”
South Weber resident Michelle McGarry stars in the role of Anna. Jay Nauman, of Brigham City, plays King Mongkut.
Soon after Anna is introduced to the king, she tightens her resolve to not be intimidated by his power in the song, “I Whistle a Happy Tune.”
When she shows the children a map of the world, they are surprised to see how small Siam is, which works as a lead in to the tune “Getting to Know You.”
“It is my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack,” the director said. “It reprises throughout. It is really pretty.”
Erwin sees the relationship between Anna and the king as both playing hard to get, with each stubbornly clinging to a point of view. But then something changes.
“Anna is touched when she finally sees the king as an imperfect man trying to do his best,” Erwin said. “She sees that he has always tried to do his best.”
Erwin has worked to tighten scene changes to bring the nearly three hour show to under two and a half hours.
“We try to keep it focused on the story,” he said.
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