Wandering around rehearsals seven years ago for LCT’s production of South Pacific, I often felt as if I were in a boot camp. With The King and I, another comparison keeps coming to mind: a Hollywood studio. In the golden era of Hollywood, for example, the backlots of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) were proclaimed by Louis B. Mayer “a city within a city.” Making my way one afternoon this week around The King and I, I almost had the feeling that Lincoln Center Theater, within Lincoln Center, had also become “a city within a city.”
In the large rehearsal room, Jake Lucas, who plays Louis, and Jon Viktor Corpuz, who plays Prince Chulalongkorn, were working on a scene with Bartlett Sher, the production’s director.
Four floors higher, in the Mailman Rehearsal Room, the production’s ensemble was engaged in ballet work. Their splashiest assignment is, of course, the “Small House of Uncle” narrated ballet in act two.
LCT also has a Ballet Room, on the building’s lowest level, which for The King and I has not generally been used for dance rehearsals. But it does serve as a kind of all-purpose space for the production; on any given afternoon, you may find actors engaged there in unofficial scene work, or actors going over their lines, or dancers limbering up before their routines are practiced up in Mailman.
Down three hallways from the Ballet Room is the Small Rehearsal Room, which on most mornings serves as the school for The King and I’s children. While it’s not quite as grand as the MGM school house – the white building of Spanish architecture and red tile roof where Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor had lessons – it does serve a function over and above the education of its young citizens. It is a mirror image to a famous location in The King and I: the schoolroom in which Anna drills her pupils in English and history and geography. I hope to report from the young actors’ real-life rehearsal schoolroom in a future blog entry.
But the closest analogue between Hollywood backlot and LCT is the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Its vast reaches remind one of a studio soundstage, even though the sounds on it currently are those of saws and drills, as The King and I set is being built, not those of a movie star declaiming lines from National Velvet or The Wizard of Oz.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.