BWW Interview: Pedro Ka'awaoa of THE KING AND I at Times Union Performing Arts Center
Pedro Ka'awaoa is honored to be bringing King Mongkut to life in The King and I's national tour. He has a BA in Music from Harvard University. Regional: The Fantasticks, South Pacific, Evita, The Addams Family, The Producers, Jesus Christ Superstar, White Christmas, The Odd Couple Female Version. MD/Conductor: Cabaret, First Date, Seussical, Putnam Spelling Bee, The King and I, Les Misérables School Edition. Pedro is also a choir conductor, pianist, musician, teacher, and composer. He is also a fitness and mindfulness enthusiast. Aloha and IMUA!
Ka'awaoa spent some time talking with BroadwayWorld to discuss his road to The King and I and their upcoming journey to Jacksonville.
What does The King and I mean to you?
It is a very interesting thing from the King's perspective. There is a lot of history and the material is written from the perspective of Anna Leonownes, from her memoirs, to Margaret Landon's book, all the way to through Anna and the King of Siam movie in 1946, and finally the musical. From my perspective he was such a bright, intelligent man and a lot of that comes through in the musical. We also have the world of the musical which really depicts him as a little boorish and an angry man, which comes through in his character. I think my take away from this, which is so timely in the present day in age because there is a lot of anger and frustration because he is dealing with imperialism and colonialism and he is trying to hang on to his traditions and what he believes. At the same time, he is a very intelligent man and he is looking forward not only for himself, but also his kingdom. As much as he is really weary of Anna and the British and most certainly the French, it does not stop him from being inquisitive about what that world is and what he can find in there. There is a line in the show where he says, "I want to bring to Siam what is good in western culture." He really thinks about this. And I think in this day in age with this political and global climate, people are so quick to dismiss beliefs and concepts and ideas of other people. I hope people will take away from this musical that they should try to understand other people and other points of views and try and find that common ground. I really think that it will unify us. Not just us as a country, but globally as well.
What does it mean to you to be in a Rodger's and Hammerstein show?
It has been a phenomenal experience. I have always loved Rodger Hammerstein's shows and I have had the privilege to do a number of them. One of the first shows I ever did professionally was South Pacific, and it meant just as much to me as this does because you can count on them for wonderfully, gorgeous music, and at the same time very progressive and poignant in many ways. To be able to be a part of that and to take something from 50 or 60 years ago and bring them back, we realize they are just as much relevant today. They evolve and shift, but it is just as important. How quickly media disseminates across the globe, being a part of theatre is something that will touch people of that generation as well as to this day. This show really is for all ages, you'll find kids, and the King's focus on education, it really speaks to all generations.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to touring?
I have done regional theatre and it's very nice and you reach a nice audience, but you are contained within the city you work in and maybe the areas around. For me, the joy will be bringing this across the country and some places in Canada. I am going to get to see audiences in areas I have never seen before, and to bring this story to those areas is absolutely exciting. And from the actor's perspective, it will be exciting to shift everything in the show. Every time we do it in a new venue, it will not only be exciting to present the show to a whole new audience, but also to have a whole new presentation of it. I love the idea that this makes it so unique for every venue we go to and every audience that comes to see us. It forces us as performers to maintain the presence, to be in the moment, and be honest and share it with the audience. The material we have been given is so well written and really helps us to be more open and honest, and letting the contents and material speak for itself.
I was born and raised on the island of Hawaii. A small town, small island, a little area, and it brings joy to my heart that we can bring this caliber of talent in this cast to places like that. Angela Baumgardner as Anna carries the show so well and is such a joy to work opposite. Deanna Choi playing Lady Thiang, has a voice that is just soaring. Even the lovers played by Paulina Yeung and Dongwoo Kang bring so much, there is just so much talent across the board. For us to bring this level of talent and excitement of the Broadway world to small communities will be so fulfilling for me because I know what it was like being born in a small town and not really having access to this. Being on the other side of that veil makes me so happy. Art and theatre are a way to bring light to reality and the issues we are dealing with. It is so vital to our children and the youth of our country.
I understand you were previously a teacher. How did you make the transition from school teacher to stage performer?
I started theatre in high school and college, but I was doing it as a hobby. Even when I was a teacher back in Hawaii, I had always kept is as a hobby and never intended it to stop being my hobby. However, when I had to do the teacher education program to finalize my certification to be the band director at my alma mater it would have required me to be teaching in the day time and taking the courses in the evening. I hesitated. It wasn't an "absolutely, I'll give up theatre for six months." I hesitated, and I couldn't do it. It was really the wake-up call to me that said, "I've considered this a hobby, but clearly somewhere in me I don't." When that realization occurred, I thought "I am going to go where it is." I packed up and moved to New York in the summer of 2014 to pursue this dream
How did teaching prepare you for this experience?
You get so much for yourself out of working with your students. The freedom and the presence that you have to have with your kids and how you work with individual students, it really works well with the actor. To be present in the moment, you have to be working off their energy and what energy am I being given and how can I fuel that back to them, so we can get this real moment?
Even Anna says it in the show, you're always learning when you teach.
Anything else you would like our Jacksonville audiences to know before you all hit the stage November 13?
I would say from my unique perspective I love the show because it really does give a message of feminism and being strong. Also, what we can look and find in common. I would say really listen to the lyrics. "Something Wonderful" is one of my favorite songs, but right before Lady Teang says "This is a man who leads with his heart. His heart is not always wise, but this is a man who tries". The idea that we have our beliefs and we like the way we live, but we also just have to try to understand and find common ground with those people. Especially the ones we just want to dismiss. The challenge is to keep going back, and that is what Anna does in this show. Especially with the King he is constantly aggressive toward her. She definitely resisted, but she continued to go back. I would say that is the take away. Think about that and then when you come to the show, really think about the lyrics. Rodger and Hammerstein's music is so beautifully written and it sounds beautiful, but there is always a message behind it.