| Bella Martua, barefoot, Etienne Blumberg, in pink, and Jacklyn Poppen, in purple play the King’s children in “The King and I.” Courtesy photo
Playhouses tend to choose their productions either on audience popularity, the theatrical challenge or relevance to today’s climate, no matter when and where the original script was set.
When the Wood River Valley-based St. Thomas Playhouse picks a show, it tends to lean heavily on the social commentary and challenge, which is most of why the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” is its selection for this fall’s presentation, which starts Thursday, Oct. 18, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 21 at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum.
The story is of a widowed Welsh mother, Anna, who becomes a governess and tutor to the many wives and children of the brutish Tarzan-like King of Siam to prepare him to impress a group of European diplomats by learning some Western ways.
“There is a very contemporary moral,” said director R.L. Rowsey. “This kind of racial bias was accepted but it began to change as the characters begin to take care of each other and to care for each other, and together they move through that shift. This is relevant today in this community as we continue working to meld with the Hispanic culture.
“Our children are already doing it—it’s their parents and grandparents who need to learn how now, and this story shows it can be done while respecting each other’s cultural needs.”
St. Thomas Playhouse managing director Cherie Kessler said that even though the story itself is old, for an audience to see it live has more impact.
“That’s what we do,” she said of the playhouse’s mission. “We basically do musicals to educate and transform lives.”
And anyone who has been to one of their shows knows that they pull out all the stops, taking a huge cast on, teaching them song and dance and their speaking parts, outfitting them in amazing costumes and taking audiences on a journey. Yet it is still classified as community theater, with actors of all ages, some of whom have made their names elsewhere but are dedicated to making local theater more than worth the price of admission.
Choreographer Dennis Rexroad, who is also designing the set and some of the props and helping costumer Michele Minailo, said he loved the challenge of the show within the show, namely a 12-minute ballet in the musical’s center. He is working with dancers from Footlight Dance Centre and Sun Valley Ballet who will be adorned in traditional Siamese dress. He created the Siamese headdresses himself from Mardi Gras beads and coins and Christmas ornaments, buffing them out to be more than suitable for a king.
“Visually sumptuous,” he said of the scenery throughout.
Rowsey is delighted to be able to play with one of his favorite accompanists, Dorinda Rendahl, with both on piano.
Friday, Oct. 19, will be a special benefit program for the Bilkey Memorial Scholarship Fund with a reception and special seating. The proceeds enable the playhouse to operate its summer camps, conservatory and acting classes throughout the year with scholarship money at the ready for those wanting to attend but who can’t afford to.
Kessler said the playhouse considers its shows a way to minister to the public in an environment where everyone can be themselves and people can glean what they need from each performance. It’s another way of bringing different aspects of the community together under one roof.
“The story is so timely about accepting different cultures,” Kessler said. “The feel of this one at this point in time seems perfect.”
Sit before the king
When: Thursday, Oct. 18, through Sunday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m., and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, Oct. 20, and Sunday, Oct. 21.
Where: nexStage Theatre on Ketchum’s Main Street
Tickets: $25 for adults, $10 for children through age 18. Special student prices for first 10 young adults ages 19-22 are $10. They can be secured by calling 726-5349, ext. 15 or at Iconoclast Books.
Special note: Friday, Oct. 19, is a benefit for the Bilkey Memorial Scholarship fund with food and libations for patrons. Reserved seating for patrons. Call for ticket prices.