Lorenzo Lamas: It's Good to Be King
Best known for his "bad boy" action-adventure roles on television and in film, and for being the celebrated and much photographed son of actors Arlene Dahl and the late Fernando Lamas, handsome Hollywood heartthrob Lorenzo Lamas is venturing into uncharted territory this summer. He is starring as the iconic King of Siam in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of "The King and I" through August 25.
This is his first time acting on stage in any capacity. Nothing like starting at the top!
"I owe this all to Sally Struthers," says Lamas in a phone conversation held last Friday morning prior to rehearsal. "While doing 'The Full Monty' at Ogunquit earlier this summer, Sally had lunch with Brad Kenney the artistic director, and he asked her for ideas in casting the King. She mentioned my name because we had worked together during a STAGE benefit concert, and she remembered that we had done a song and dance together. Brad gave my agent a call, and here I am."
Lamas, 49, views this opportunity as the highlight of his acting career. It gives him the chance to flex his all around performing muscles in a way he's never done before. While he's sung in concerts and cabarets and appeared in 50 plus films and more than a dozen television series, including starring roles in "The Bold and the Beautiful," "Renegade," and "Falcon Crest," he is bringing all of his skills together in one show for the first time with "The King and I."
"Everything I've done so far has led up to this," Lamas says. "It's all performing, it's all character analysis and interpretation. I've had levels of success and excitement in my career, and there are accomplishments I'm very proud of. But theater acting is very different from film acting. You have to sustain a character for 2-1/2 to 3 hours at a time. I have tremendous respect for theater actors. They are truly doing the craft. I am finding this to be very challenging but also very rewarding."
Lamas credits his co-stars and the creative team at Ogunquit for helping him make a smooth transition from screen to stage. "They've all embraced me as the King," he graciously states. "From day one I have been treated with respect. Rachel deBenedet (his Anna Leonowens) is fantastic. She's charming, sweet, and so supportive. Steven Yuhasz, the director, has been very giving. They look at me as the King, so I am doing my best to live up to their expectations."
While playing a role so strongly identified with Yul Brynner could be intimidating for any actor, Lamas says he hasn't had time to get nervous. He's been too busy and excited as he's worked to come to terms with the way in which he wants to portray the conflicted monarch.
Early Role Model
"I was in a way raised by a modern king," says Lamas, referring to his old-world Latin father and screen idol Fernando Lamas whose own celebrated career spanned 40 years. "My father was very set in his ways, and though he loved women, he also felt that they should be at home, no question. When he married Esther (Williams), she retired from film. At the height of her career she was the number one box office draw in America. But she chose to give that up for him.
"So in a way, I am Prince Chulalongkorn," he concludes. "I have grown up to take over the thrown. As the King, I am channeling my father."
As it turns out, Lamas is borrowing more than his father's traditional sensibilities as the King of Siam. He is also sporting the very same hair cut his father wore when he played the role in the late 1950s opposite his then wife Arlene Dahl. "Yes, I call it 'the Marine high and tight,' " Lamas jokes. "I'm not bald like Yul Brynner, but my hair is very short. I have patterned my look after a photo of my father from the production he did with my mother. She says I was about a year old when they were in it. They performed the show in Framingham, Mass., at a theater in the round called the Carousel. So she understands very well that this is the most challenging thing I've ever done."
Lamas says he speaks on the phone every day with his mother, with whom he grew up in New York City after his parents' divorce. He plans to bring her out to Ogunquit to see his theatrical debut. "She has been giving me wonderful advice," he beams, "especially about getting rest and protecting my voice. Believe it or not, this interview is actually taxing me. I've been on vocal rest at various times between rehearsals because the way the King talks out with lots of energy is very tiring."
Just how will Lamas' rich velvet speaking voice handle the King's big musical soliloquy, "A Puzzlement?" According to reviews of Lamas' cabaret act "Lorenzo Sings About Love" which he debuted at Feinstein's at Loew's Regency in October 2006, we can expect respectable treatment.
Variety scribe Robert L. Daniels described his voice as "a lusty baritone" while Stephen Holden of The New York Times called him "a crooning baritone who at times echoes Dean Martin." Frank Scheck from the New York Post said, "He displays a decent baritone voice enhanced by his self-deprecating and charming demeanor." The Seigels of TheaterMania answered their own question, "But can he sing?" with this answer. "His voice has a rough, manly character. His lower register has texture and body. His vocal range is limited...(and) his interpretive skills are modest, but he certainly cuts a romantic figure."
An Actor's Life
While "The King and I" is Lamas' first foray into musical theater, he has tasted what it's like to sing and dance for his supper on screen. His motion picture debut came at the age of 19 in the hit musical "Grease" in which he played Sandy's (Olivia Newton-John's) All American jock boyfriend Tom Chisum. Does Lamas foresee other musical theater roles in his future? If he has his way, the answer is a definite yes.
"As actors, we don't really have a lot of control over where we work or what we do," he muses. "An actor's career can be very up and down. When my nine years with 'Falcon Crest' ended, I did not work again for more than a year. It was very difficult, because at the age of 30 I had three kids and two ex-wives to support. I learned the reality of life in this business pretty quickly. I don't take anything for granted.
"But I have always kept a small amount of confidence with me," he stresses. "You have to be a little fearless to make changes and to try something new. I've been fortunate to have a long run on television and to have realized my dream of becoming an action star on film. As a youth my favorite character was James Bond. Now maybe this (musical theater) is a new direction for me. I'm quite hopeful that I will be given an opportunity to do more."
"The King and I" at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine runs now through August 25. Performances are Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00 and Saturday evenings at 8:30, with matinees on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511 or by visiting the website at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.