March 06, 2019

Lyric Gets Ready for THE KING AND I

It takes a virtual village of guest artists plus Lyric full time and seasonal staff backstage and front of house to mount a musical! Since long before the opera season ended on March 19, preparations have been in full swing for The King and I, which runs April 29 – May 22 at the Civic Opera House. Casting the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic started a year ago, with the final contract settled on St. Patrick’s Day.

The singing-dancing-acting-creative-stage management-musical-backstage forces include:

  • 12 principals
  • 14 royal children
  • 7 royal wives
  • 8 female dancers
  • 5 male dancers
  • 5 guards/priests/men in black
  • 37 orchestra musicians
  • 6 musical staff (conductor & cover, chorus master, rehearsal pianists)
  • 20 production team members (director; scenic, costume, lighting, sound designers, choreographer, fight, lighting, and wig/makeup directors; stage manager; assistants to all)
  • 43 stage crew
  • 20 dressers
  • 15 hair/makeup artists

The King and I at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

Musical scores were sent in early March by Lyric’s chief librarian, Wendy Skoczen; principals are expected to have their roles memorized by the first rehearsal on April 4. “Our staff here will help everyone navigate rehearsals, arrange travel and housing for those coming from out of town, confirm work permits, get fitted for costumes, and a thousand other things that help get a show on its feet!” says Cory Lippiello, deputy director of artistic planning.  Although some of the cast members are from the Chicago area, only a few have been in previous Lyric productions. A welcome letter from the Rehearsal Department was sent two weeks in advance to help those walking through the stage door for the first time get their bearings and understand the m.o. at Lyric so they can get down to the business of putting on a really big show.

Because this production of The King and I has been done previously in Paris, there’s a basic “roadmap” for props, scenery, costumes, etc., notes stage manager John Coleman. Some details may get lost in translation, literally, and others may have been revised by the creative team – adding a lantern here or another prop there, for instance. To prepare for the show, John’s been “figuring out who’s in each scene, what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, and looking for things that don’t line up. My job is to anticipate everything they’ll need in rehearsal. I’m always asking, ‘What is the plan?’ With musicals things change all the time, more than with opera productions. It’s all about thinking on your feet, and adapting in the most efficient way possible. Half the fun is figuring it out.”

Inside the Ardis Krainik Theatre

In opera rehearsals, there’s always piano accompaniment; for The King and I, “there will also be percussion for the dancers, which is a first for us,” says Stephanie Karr, Lyric’s orchestra, chorus, and ballet manager. Another difference is that “the ensemble is called to most rehearsals, and are working with the principals much sooner. You often have people doing something in every scene.” The biggest difference is the schedule: eight shows a week six days a week.

That amped-up schedule also affects front-of-house planning, says Nora O’Malley, facilities operations manager. “Normally we have 50-55 ushers, but with so many performances we need to add staff” for The King and I. Additionally, volunteers are being recruited to serve as lobby greeters to help direct opera-house newcomers to the box office, restrooms, restaurants, elevators, and other areas. Directional signage will also be in place in time for the musical’s opening.

The Graham Room at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Concessions will be more family friendly for The King and I audiences, with more sweet snacks and soft drinks available. “And we’re introducing ‘Lyric Cups:’ attractive, lidded, machine-washable, plastic cold-beverage glasses that can be purchased for $3 and brought into the theater,” Nora says. “They can be refilled at intermission, used at home, and brought back for future performances.”

A new dining option is being added for select performances of The King and I: for the first time, non-members will have access to the mezzanine-level Graham Room. Prix-fixe dinners will be offered May 13-15 and May 20-22, with beverage and dessert service available during the intermissions of all performances. The Pedersen Room (prix fixe) and Florian Bistro (à la carte) will be open to ticketholders for all performances as well (except for May 7).

The King and I guarantees a veritable feast for the senses at Lyric. Don’t miss out on the magic!

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: Marie-Noëlle Robert/Théâtre du Châtelet, Dan Rest