March 06, 2019

Broadway’s Hottest Stars Transform into Anna & the King

When the Lyric Opera House was built in 1929, it was the most state-of-the-art theater of its time. Work was done to shore up the aging stage in the early 1990s, but was never completed, and conditions have steadily deteriorated over the years. We now grapple with the challenges of a performance space that is woefully ill-equipped. Rather than relying on modern technology and mechanics to create, move, and change over sets during and between performances, Lyric still uses sheer manpower. 

What are you looking forward to the most as you begin this process? 

Kate Baldwin: I look forward to rehearsal. It’s my favorite part of the entire process. I’m interested in finding out why Anna does the things she does.

Paolo Montalban: I’m really looking forward to working with the director, Lee Blakeley, and his creative team. With a classic like this, it’s always interesting to see what the director’s vision will be…to be given the opportunity to collaborate on this quality of work is every actor’s dream.

What draws you toward your character and gets you excited to perform? 

KB: I’m drawn to her contradictions. She seems simultaneously fearless yet filled with fear. She claims to not be an imperialist, yet she imposes her ideas on another group’s way of life. What excites me about the story is how two people from such disparate cultures find common ground and even deep love.

PM: An actor gets to explore the full spectrum of the human behavioral landscape in the role of the King. He’s so complex and mercurial; I consider him to be the Asian Hamlet of the musical-theater genre. He’s both an authoritative god-king and a loving father, he’s absolute with his power yet has moments of self-doubt, he’s a devout Buddhist and also a man of science and learning, and he’s a strict traditionalist who strives to usher his country into a modern era. And dancing the polka in bare feet with your partner wearing a 20-pound, hoop-skirted, Victorian-era ball gown can get pretty exciting, too!

Kate, as a Northwestern grad and Evanston native, you’ve lived and performed locally before. What are you looking forward to doing or seeing as you return to the area? 

KB: I’m looking forward to spending time with my brother, who lives with his family in La Grange, and to seeing friends all over the Chicagoland area. I’m trying to plan a time to head up to NU to teach a master class for the musical theater students. 

Paolo, what are you looking forward to doing during your time in Chicago? 

PM: I don’t know in what states of undress we’ll be in this production of The King and I (Lee mentioned it will be very sensual), but I really hope to sample the cuisine Chicago is famous for. I take pictures of food as a kind of visual travelogue for myself. The last time I visited the city, it was January and very cold. It didn’t matter though, because of the ubiquitous Chicagoan friendliness. I look forward to total strangers greeting me on the sidewalk again. Windy City, warm hearts.

Kate, as a working mom, do you have any secrets or tips to share with other parents who juggle career and family commitments?

KB: Guard your health like it’s your job. No one can function happily if they are feeling terrible. Also, make sure you marry someone who makes you laugh. And find time to joke around with your kids. Humor saves the day!

Paolo, we read that you were on a pre-med track when you graduated from Rutgers with a degree in psychology. Did you ever consider going back to med school once you started performing or were you sure you’d found your calling? 

PM: The thought of pursuing med school again never came up since I started acting professionally, much to the dismay of my parents. However, I did do a year-and-a-half stint of massage therapy school on the side (I’m certified). I was still really interested in anatomy, physiology, and being able to treat people in a pinch if they became injured. That was the closest I came to flirting with the medical field again. As iconic businessman and author Harvey Mackay said, “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I’ve definitely found my “something” in acting for now. I may not be a doctor, but I can play one on TV.

Interview courtesy of Make it BetterRead the full article here.

Behind the Scenes of Lyric's THE KING & I Photo Shoot

Lyric Opera premiere generously made possible by The Negaunee Foundation, two Anonymous DonorsRobert S. and Susan E. Morrison, and Northern Trust

Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE KING AND I 
Music by Richard Rodgers   Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II   Based on Anna and the King by Margaret Landon   Original Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett   Original Dance Arrangements by Trude Rittmann   Original Choreography by Jerome Robbins

The King and I production created by the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris on June 13, 2014. General Director: Jeanluc Choplin. Photo: Marie-Noëlle Robert

Photos: Todd Rosenberg