Kelli O'Hara ‘excited' about The King And I coming to London
Broadway superstar Kelli O’Hara has revealed she is excited to bring The King and I to a “very sophisticated” London audience.
O’Hara will reprise her 2015 Broadway portrayal of Anna Leonowens alongside Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam in the west end debut of the hit Rodgers and Hammerstein show.
Debuting later this month at the London Palladium, the production follows a hugely successful US tour and 16-month run at the Lincoln Centre theatre in New York City.
O’Hara told the Press Association: “I work with an audience in what they’re giving, and I love an audience who’s leaning in to listen and not laughing before they know they’re supposed to laugh.
“We’re not reaching for the laughs or huge amounts of applause. What we’re reaching for is telling a story and people listening.
“And I think that a very sophisticated audience that I know is here, is going to lean in to listen and that excites me, because it makes me feel that the story we’re trying to tell is being heard.”
The multi Tony award-winning musical tells the story of British governess Anna Leonowens who taught the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the 1860s during his bid to modernise the country, now known as Thailand.
It is based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam.
Despite its first launch on Broadway in 1951, the production remains relevant not least in the way that it explores themes of women’s agency and cultural change, acclaimed director Bartlett Sher said.
“Anna was such an incredible figure in terms of her bravery,” he told the Press Association.
“By doing what she did, accepting an invitation, going into a completely foreign culture along with her son, demanding her own space… it feels very powerful and relevant.
“Balanced against the King’s deep struggles when it comes to how to handle a traditional culture that’s trying to go through change and being besieged by the west… the biggest struggle for us from the 50s version was not to have it feel decorative and exotic but to have it feel more respectful of the culture.”
Sher also teased a potential film adaptation, saying: “(Kelli and Ken) would be great in a film. We should do that, that’s a great idea.”
The play which launched acclaimed actor Watanabe’s Broadway debut has also led him to his first ever show on the west end stage, something he admitted he was “nervous” about.
Journalists and fans were treated to a sneak peek of the performance during a morning rehearsal at the WAC Theatre in north London on Tuesday.
The King and I will run at the London Palladium from June 21 until September 29.