The King and I: Singing, Dancing and Acting in a 45-Pound Dress

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I
Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I Photo by Matthew Murphy
Despite being reluctant to go out on the road with all the rigors that can often be involved, actress Laura Michelle Kelly decided to join the national tour of The King and I for two reasons: the show itself and for the chance to work with director Bartlett Sher, a 2015 Tony Award winner himself for the revival version that won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival.

"It’s spectacular. The epic nature of the piece. The grandeur of the royal family: the harem of wives and all those children.The decadent costume design. When they offered it to me, I had to think about it because touring is not an easy life. Because the show is so excellent, it was enough to make me want to do the project," she said.

Set in 1860s Siam (now Thailand), The King and I tells the story of Anna Leonowens, the British schoolteacher who travels to that country at the request of the king (played by Jose Llana) to teach the monarch’s many wives and children.

Houston audiences will have a chance to see the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic with all its special music ("Getting To Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello Young Lovers," "Shall We Dance" and "Something Wonderful."), courtesy of BBVA Compass Broadway At the Hobby Center.

"He [Sher] has such a respect for the dialogue and he's a genius at breaking down dialogue and adding relationships. Make it relevant, make it fresh and make it feel real," Kelly said.

"We did a read-through, and all my own take on Anna he just twisted on its head to allow me to step away from the convention of what I thought the role was," Kelly said, adding that she had to learn to be brasher with Anna.

Kelly (Broadway: Mary Poppins, Finding Neverland) stars and describes her character as “very strong-willed. She was very progressive for her time, very opinionated. She was a wild force that he has to contend with and find out how to communicate with.”

She acts, sings and dances while wearing a 45-pound, authentic-to-the-times dress. And yes, she has suffered for her art. "Even down to the corset. At one point the bone to one of my corsets had been pressing into one my kidneys for so long that I got a bruise. It was very very painful."

Asked if she ever ran into anything while learning to navigate with the sweeping dress, she replied: "I still do."

The attraction of The King and I continues, in large part, Kelly said, in its depiction of another place and time. "We create a world for you. To take people to foreign lands. It’s amazing that the dialogue from the 1950s is still blowing people away. That's why we need to keep doing revivals to remind people where the bar is actually set. Rodgers and Hammerstein were way ahead of their era."

"This is definitely The King and I for our generation."

Performances are scheduled for March 14-19 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit $35-$150.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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