BWW Interview: THE KING AND I's Anthony Chan and Stephanie Lo
BroadwayWorld San Francisco spoke with King and I cast members Anthony Chan (Prince Chulalongkorn) and Stephanie Lo (Ensemble) about growing up in the Bay Area, working with Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly, and the very relevant themes in this beautiful production. Read the full interviews below.
BWW: Both of you are from the Bay Area. Give me an idea of your theatre background here.
Anthony: I was born and raised in San Francisco California, and them lived about 30 minutes South of San Francisco in Millbrae and went to school there, and that's basically where I started my career in theatre in high school drama. It didn't really click until I started doing regional work around the Bay Area, realizing that this is actually something that I'm kind of good at. So then I went to college for it and then moved to New York and now I'm here.
Stephanie: I grew up here. I did do some high school musicals, but I always danced. I studied ballet really intensely. I didn't sing. The first musical I saw at the Golden Gate with SHN was Rent. That's what kind of spurred me on to study theatre.
BWW: It can be so fun to picture our favorite actors at the beginning of their careers.
Anthony: The thing about high school theatre is that we can play anything we want. One of shows we did was Flower Drum Song, which Jose Llana actually originated on Broadway, and that was the first time I heard of Jose. At that time, he became one of my idols. Being given the chance to work with him is one of the greatest things ever at this point in my life.
BWW: Education plays a large part in The King and I. How would you say your education in theatre has prepared you for where you are now?
Anthony: Education is always going to be a part of me. I love learning and I don't think there's ever going to be a point in my life where I stop learning. So, to be able to do a show that teaches that there's more than an eight-hour day, it's more than just getting A's. It's being self aware, and becoming who you are in school. And the friends I make. My internal life.
BWW: While you're here in San Francisco, do you have any plans to visit favorite spots from your youth?
Anthony: I went straight to In-N-Out Burger. And then I visited my high school. My high school drama teacher still teaches there. I just had a good chat with her about how much I appreciate what she did to bring me into the theatre world. And then my entire family is within a two-mile radius.
BWW: And Anthony, you have your extended family on stage. As the Prince, you have quite a few siblings.
Anthony: I love it. These kids are the sweetest. I was fearful at first. I'd never worked with a co-star that was a child. Graham Montgomery is a ball of energy, just a shining star. It makes it so much easier to be on stage. It carries over to the rest of the cast, as well. We steal some of the kids' energy to present to the audience.
BWW: What do your adult co-stars bring to the show?
Anthony: Jose Llana (the King) really paves the way for Asian-American actors, and being able to even do a few scenes with him, he brings so much to the table that makes me figure out new ways to say my lines. He's a really smart actor and a great singer and a great person. And Laura Michelle Kelly (Anna) is a sweetheart. She always has a smile on her face, and always talking to us, finding new ways to make conversation. And on stage, she really brings that to the character of Anna. Sometimes she's really feisty; sometimes she's really sweet. But all of it really encapsulates who Anna is and who Laura is. Director Bartlett Sher is really detail oriented. For the first week, we were really working on that and delving into our characters and trying to figure out why our characters would say this or do a specific thing, especially my character. How would he grow? He's learning from two different sides.
BWW: And that struggle is very relevant today.
Anthony: I bring so much of today's society and generation into this role because there's constant change in the world, and people are looking to find different ways to modernize. The show really is a timeless musical. My character really does have a struggle of being the new king of Siam and figuring out, "This is how I'm going to change Siam, and this is the new route that I want to take. But I'm hoping it's for the better."
BWW: Stephanie, you are one of the dancers for the Uncle Tom's Cabin ballet, one of the more poignant moments of the show.
Stephanie: The ballet itself is so beautiful, and it's also very intense. The music, too, is so heightened, and then the quiet, the calm, the tranquility of the ice skating, and then it goes right back up to the drowning. There's so much thought that was put into it. When you're watching, everything is in the music and in the movement. Almost every day I find different things that are so pertinent to what we are experiencing now. It's lighthearted, but it definitely can give you pause. How do you retain your heritage and your strength in a time with all these different influences trying to take everything you have. And for Anna to come in as a female, that's very important for us today. I think I'd like to read the actual Uncle Tom's Cabin at some point.
BWW: What is familiar or new about this production? How does the design aesthetic affect the world you're creating?
Anthony: This production is a little darker, but the elements of our sets, our costumes, everything in new, a little more grand. Any time anyone talks to me about the show, the first thing they usually talk about is how beautiful the costumes are. It's very simple, but it's very aesthetically pleasing. The sets complement the actors, and the actors complement the sets. Everything helps each other to tell the story. A lot of people have fallen in love again with the musical.
Stephanie: This production, the ensemble is on stage so much more. We all have different costumes, different staging. Every wife has a different costume for every scene, a different color, a different style of skirt. Everything is so particular and individualized, taking into account each person living in this palace. I was really surprised because in a lot of other shows, we're not often used, but this time around you get to see a lot of our reactions and get a feel for what the palace was more like. We're on in so many more scenes. It gives you a broader feel, a representation of the people and how they felt about the changes and different countries coming in.
BWW: The wives also get to steal the opening of the second act, Western People Funny.
Stephanie: It's just such a fun and exciting way to open up and reintroduce everyone as we start the second act, and it can lead into the ballet and Shall We Dance. It's an energized and heightened approach to the wives.
BWW: What are you most looking forward to as you continue the tour?
Anthony: We're hitting a bunch of cities I've never been to before, and I love traveling. To be able do such a beautiful show and see a city like Seattle where I've never been is very humbling to me. I'm going to take each day and see everything as much as I can. And also the food.
Stephanie: I'm really excited. We get to do a run in Chicago, but also the smaller cities, some with larger Asian communities. It's a really great opportunity for us to be a face for the minority. I look forward to presenting our heritage and this beautiful story. I'm hoping to really put a face to the unknown. I think it's going to be very interesting as we hit the road.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy