Jay Españo in Theater Works' "The King and I" until Oct. 16, 2011

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I wrote about Jay Españo landing the lead role in a production of "King and I" in Chicago earlier this year (you can read about it here).

He apparently has landed the same role again for a different production in Phoenix.

He sent Theaterbator blog by Walter Ang an interview done with the director of the production he's currently in. This time, he's working with Theater Works, a theater company in Arizona, USA.

Announcement from Theater Works

Arizona’s Theater Works  casts Filipino actor Jay Españo for lead in "The King and I"

The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic story of an English governess going to Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860’s to teach the stern king’s royal children  in the hopes of modernizing his country continues to dazzle  people of all ages.   Multi Arizoni Award (Arizona’s equivalent of Tony Awards)-winning director Athena Hunting took time to answer a few interesting questions about her current theater endeavor.

(From left) Kristi McEwan (Anna Leonowens),
Athena Hunting (director), and Jay Españo (King Mongkut).
Why did you cast Jay Españo and Kristi McEwan in the title roles?
I cast Jay and Kristi because in them I saw authenticity, heart, and humor – the ‘ahh’ factor -- all of which I needed to fulfill my vision for the relationship between Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut.  From the beginning, Jay demonstrated such an understanding of the role, to which no one at auditions even came close.  There were many Anna’s to choose from, but Kristi has this Bridget Jones-like quality that is so endearing, I couldn’t resist.

You've seen the movie (with Yul Brynner) and you've seen productions of  "The King And I," how does this production compare?  What's different?  What's new?
Actually, I've not seen a staged version of this show, but I did play Tuptim years ago in a production of it in Washington , D.C.   Having watched the film many years ago, I sort of came into this project like Jay – no expectations!  We fused the screenplay with the stage script for our production, making cuts here and there to keep the show fresh.  It seems our version might be the first one of its kind!  The use of shadow puppets in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (in addition to our fantastic dancers, musicians, and singers) is a beautiful way of enhancing the re-enactment of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s beloved story.

Jay admitted  that he has never seen the movie version with Yul Brynner in the iconic role that catapulted him to stardom.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing? How did it affect your vision for the production?
Unlike Yul Brynner, Jay has a lot of hair!  Seriously, my vision before rehearsals begin for any show I direct, is quite broad, so that the actors can bring their own interpretations.  But the one thing we all have in common is the text – and as long as we are respectful of the text, I don’t think we can make a mistake.  Case in point: although Jay had never watched Yul Brynner in the role, a local reviewer wrote, “Jay Españo’s King is heavily influenced by Yul Brynner’s definitive original interpretation (which) works perfectly…”  It’s really all about the text!  And of course, great minds think alike!

The relationship of Anna and the King has a lot of very understated romantic moments. They bicker, they fight and they fall in love. Tell us about finding that chemistry in terms of motivating  your lead stars.

Sometimes finding the arc of a character, a relationship, a scene, and a play happens because the director is very specific, and sometimes it happens more organically, with everyone bringing their own perspectives to the table.  All I can say is, the trust I put in my leads paid off in spades!

"The King and I" at The Peoria Center for  Performing Arts, Phoenix, Arizona runs until October 16, 2011.  Contact +1-623-815-7930 or boffice@theaterworks.org

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