Doing eight shows a week is hardly a walk in the park, but for Conrad Ricamora it can be a run in one. As part of his pre-performance routine, Ricamora, who plays Lun Tha in The King and I, sets out from the theater for a jog in Central Park. “I run for about 30 minutes,” Ricamora told me the other day. “The park is so beautiful and running in it is mentally calming. And, to be a little explicit, the run gets all the body fluids going.”
Ricamora’s career has also been flowing recently. Last year, he received Theatre World and Lucille Lortel award nominations for his work in the off-Broadway musical Here Lies Love, and, this past season, he was part of a much-followed storyline on ABC’s hit show “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Maintaining mental and physical balance for such a life requires a solid regimen. Ricamora, who spent much of his childhood in the South and has an MFA from the University of Tennessee, says that he arrives at the theater about two hours before curtain. “After I run in the park I come back and warm up. I do stretching and breathing exercises, then get into wig and costume.”
Lun Tha, along with Tuptim, played by Ashley Park, sings two of the show’s most beautiful numbers: “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” What does Ricamora do during the hour or so he has between those scenes? “I read a little bit, then I warm up again.”
Ricamora added, “I had a big learning curve during the show’s previews. I kept doing vocal exercises between my songs but my voice got tired. I had to learn to rest it for 30 to 45 minutes in-between.”
While he was appearing in Here Lies Love, there was no backstage downtime. “It was 90 minutes non-stop,” Ricamora said. “Sometimes, I didn’t even warm up beforehand because the ensemble numbers at the beginning were a warm-up.” Ricamora says that doing that musical “was very tough but very fulfilling.” He said it’s comforting to have some of his fellow Here Lies Love colleagues – Ruthie Ann Miles, Aaron J. Albano, and Jose Llana, who this week stepped into the role of the king -- in The King and I. “We all went through a lot with Here Lies Love,” Ricamora said, “and that was bonding.”
Lun Tha’s character is not extensively fleshed out in dialogue, but Ricamora has constructed a story for him in any case. “I think he grew up in the court in Burma. He was extremely educated. He is in Siam as an architect, to copy a temple in Bangkok.” Ricamora added: “During my research, I learned that in Burma at that time” – the mid-19th-century – “50 percent of the population was literate. When people become educated, they can become empowered to go against tradition. It’s a huge thing for Lun Tha to go against the King. He and Tuptim are staking their claim as two individuals with a right to choose for themselves.”
Ricamora’s character in “How to Get away with Murder,” who is called Oliver, also is involved in an emotionally fraught relationship. Oliver is dating a frisky law student named Connor, and toward the end of the show’s premiere season we learned that Oliver is HIV-positive. “I'm glad to see that HIV is being addressed again on a popular TV show,” Ricamora said. “It seemed to fall off the radar a little bit. We are trying to entertain people with the show, but also provide a social context.”
Beginning later this month, Ricamora will be dividing his week between the new season of the TV show – it shoots in Los Angeles – and The King and I. The schedule will be challenging, but Ricamora has become used to rigors.
He said: “I was on vacation earlier this month for a week. I went to Prague. It was only while I was there, and had some downtime, that it really hit me just how jam-packed the past few months have been.”
The next few months are shaping up to be equally eventful.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.