LCT’s large rehearsal hall one morning this past week was as crowded as a cross-town bus at rush hour. The occasion was a meet-and-greet prior to the first full-scale rehearsal of The King and I. As all the adult actors and some of the musicians milled about, I said to Bartlett Sher, the director of the enterprise, that it was almost as if the Metropolitan Opera had been transplanted from next door. “This is even more crowded,” Sher replied, “because in opera everyone’s never in the room at the same time.”
Andre Bishop, the Producing Artistic Director of LCT, echoed the sentiment in his welcoming remarks. “I don’t think we have ever had as many people in this space – and the children aren’t even here today.” When those children are included, the total headcount for The King and I, which begins previews on March 12, will be 80: 51 actors and 29 musicians. If you add in the backstage crew, the number of paid professionals nightly exceeds one hundred. That’s a sum even greater than the total of the King’s stated children (77, by act two).
Bishop continued: “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.” After noting the musical’s continued relevance of theme, Bishop said: “I am going to end with something really corny.” That something, or, rather, someone, was Anna Crouse, a passionate theater lover as well as founding board member of LCT and the wife of Russell Crouse, whose many playwriting credits included, with Howard Lindsay, the book for The Sound of Music.
“Today is Anna’s birthday,” Bishop said. “Were she alive today – she died last year – she would be 99. Yesterday, I had lunch with her son, Tim Crouse. He said, ‘My mother is always with me… I know that she is going to bless this production.’” Bishop commented: “I’m convinced that that’s true.” In other words, the presence of one Anna -- Anna Crouse -- was hovering around the story of another Anna – Anna Leonowens: the real-life character portrayed at LCT by Kelli O’Hara.
Ted Chapin, the President and Executive Director of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company, also addressed the troops. Primarily, he read a brief letter that Oscar Hammerstein II sent to Richard Rodgers in the mid-1950s. Hammerstein was in Australia – one of the rare occasions during the men’s professional partnership when they were so separated – and had seen the movie of The King and I. He wrote: “I’m convinced that this is our best work.” Hammerstein added that of the men’s shows The King and I especially was the R & H musical that would remain modern.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.