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BWW Exclusive: THE KING AND I in Melbourne

The lyrics of "Getting to Know You" were certainly quite apt for the children recently cast in the upcoming Melbourne season of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, with these numerous boys and girls facing their first introduction to the Melbourne media on Sunday May 25 at the Opera Australia rehearsal rooms.

Recognised as a timeless classic that is rich in meaning and social commentary, the multi-award winning show also presents some unique challenges for those involved in casting. The casting demands of The King and I are such that numerous children aged between 4 and 10 years are required. In addition, those casting for the Melbourne season were adamant that the children needed to demonstrate their own unique flair and character that they could bring to the many child parts while at the same time not being too stagey. Over 120 children auditioned for a part in the Melbourne company, with the available parts including the numerous children of the King of Siam - these are the young Princes and Princesses - and the son of Anna Leonowens, the English Governess. From the original pool of audition candidates thirty three children were selected to grace the stage alongside Lisa McCune (playing Anna Leonowens) and Jason Scott Lee (playing the King of Siam) at the Princess Theatre from 12 June 2014.

The King and I
Some of the children cast for the Melbourne season of The King and I, which opens 12 June 2014.

Associate Director Neil Rutherford told Broadway World that the children selected displayed an individuality in their audition that they could subsequently bring to their roles in the show. These roles will be developed over a week of intensive rehearsals involving just the children. Following this week of training the children get their first sessions with Lisa McCune and Jason Scott Lee. The logistical challenges of having the company currently playing in Brisbane (the current full company is in Brisbane, where it is enjoying an extremely well received run since it opened on 19 April) while simultaneously training up the children for the Melbourne season are not lost on Rutherford, who observes, "It's very quick...we do a week and then they get three days with the full company and then we're in the theatre." Rutherford thinks that any pressure associated with the short timeline is overcome by the natural resilience and excitement of the children, as well as the thrill of finally making it to the theatre after the intensive schooling that will have occurred.

The King and I
Lisa McCune (Anna Leonowens) and
Jason Scott Lee (King of Siam)

While potentially being an asset, the natural excitability of the children is also a unique challenge - especially when working with such a number of children. In this area Rutherford's experience was evident, as he mentioned a need to recognise the inherent childhood desire to have fun while at the same time keeping the children calm and providing a feeling of control and authority that keeps the obviously building excitement in check. The ability to do so is seemingly reliant on a connection between the children and Rutherford. It was evident right from the very early moments in the rehearsal room, as the children engaged in warmup activities, that a most comfortable rapport was evolving between the children and Rutherford.

By the time opening night arrives the children will have been extremely well-versed in their roles and will have completed at least two full shows. There will also be a deliberate effort to keep the children oblivious to the unique event that opening night represents. Once again Rutherford's theatre experience is evident as he plays down the potential for opening night nerves, saying "I don't tell them it's special...I tell them it's just the same as any other performance...and if they think that they don't see anything different to anything they've done." Pattern, routine, structure, and consistency are seemingly the key to managing such a young group of cast members. Rutherford also mentions the essential requirement that the children enjoy their time on the stage. Despite the obvious challenges that he must face in his role, Rutherford made it all sound so simple - as long as the kids are having fun the rest just falls in to place. A key part of this being achieved is in the initial selection of cast members, "So long as you pick the right kids and they're up there, and they love it, they will do what they do and they will not really understand that tonight [opening night] is a special night. You just have to make them feel comfortable and do as good a show as they can do."

With the extensive experience of Rutherford on hand over the coming weeks there is little doubt that these newly cast children are set for something wonderful. If the initial impressions from Broadway World's first meeting are any indication of things to come, the Melbourne season of The King and I promises to leave you whistling a happy tune as you leave the Princess Theatre, undoubtedly glad that you got to know this beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

The children cast for the Melbourne season are (in alphabetical order):
Soren Adkin, Mahalia Bangit, Riana Cassar, Tylah Cox, Adam de Leon, Aston Droomer, Jeremiah Duncan, Catherine Hess, Gabriel Ingram, Jade Ingram, Anabelle Lam, Elliot Li, Shanice Lim, Jorji Loutas, Maisy Lu, Madison Lu, Tara Lyon, Jessica Mark, Honey Maui, Thierry Mendoza, Alex Missailidis, Hana Mitchell, Ethan Nhan, Lily Paopiamsub, Amali Place, Kayli Pollard, Jonathan Retuta, Jamie-Lee Rodrigues, Jevon Santoso, Venetia Teisini, Sienna Wang, Michael Wang and Hilda Wheatley


WHEN: From 10 June, Opens 12 June
WHERE: Princess Theatre
TIMES: Wednesday - Saturday 7:30pm; Matinees Tuesday and Wednesday 1pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 3pm
PRICE: From $79.90
BOOKING: or phone 1300 111 011

Production Shot: Brian Geach / Oliver Toth
Other images: Brett Considine

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