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Broadway Star Laura Michelle Kelly On 'The King And I'

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna in Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I." (Matthew Murphy)
Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna in Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I." (Matthew Murphy)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Laura Michelle Kelly won an Olivier Award for playing the title role in "Mary Poppins" in London, a role she then played on Broadway. Her other Broadway credits include "Finding Neverland" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

She's currently playing the role of Anna in the touring production of "The King and I," the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a headstrong English governess who serves as the tutor to the wives and children of the king of Siam.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Kelly (@lauramkelly) about her career onstage.

Interview Highlights

On her decision to tour

"I came out of doing New York thinking, 'You know, I need a new adventure.' But when this show came up, I actually originally wanted to do the Lincoln Center production once Kelli O'Hara left. I was hoping they would consider me, and I heard that they were in talks, but they were, rightly, offered it to Marin Mazzie, the icon. And so I thought, 'OK, well that's that.' But then they offered me the tour, so I thought well I don't really want to do a tour, because I like my home comforts and I know how hard it is from everyone's story. And, believe me, it is as hard as people say.

Laura Michelle Kelly at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Laura Michelle Kelly at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"I love this show, and one of the reasons I took 'The King and I' was because I wanted to work with Bartlett Sher, the most profound, Tony Award-winning director. And I was totally right, 'cause he's an incredible guy and ... he's a very — unlike some — he's a very encouraging director, so he brings out the best in you, but also challenges you. He's not like — you trust him to push your boundaries and he certainly did that with this show. The character was very different from how I'd originally thought her to be. He's just such an instinctive guy. Like he can tell the very minor details that a lot of people wouldn't notice."

On playing Anna in 'The King and I' before

"I played it at The Muny in St. Louis, which was also an incredible experience and I loved it. But I wasn't done with the part and I knew I'd like to play it again, and that's kind of ignited my passion. And I'm really glad, there was so much more to it that we had time to, you know, explore."

On what she's learned about the part

"I think that the era that we're in, with the political struggles we're having and the two different sides of the nation right now, that was definitely coming across in rehearsals. And we've got two different cultures and divisions, and we're trying to bridge those cultures and communicate effectively. You might be on two different sides, it's not easy to come together and help each other see each other's side. And that's exactly what Anna and the King are doing. She was brought in — in real life, because this is a real-life story, Anna Leonowens, in 1863, I believe. She got invited by the King of Siam to modernize, to come in and modernize the country, help modernize the country. But not just that, to teach his children the ways of the world. And there's a lot of, you know, struggles there because they have their myths and their legends and their ways, and she's saying this is wrong. They don't share the same values entirely, and you can't come at another person saying, 'My way is the only way and it's right.' You've gotta be very careful to come to someone else's level and be like, 'OK, how can we work together? How can I help you see my side?'"

"It surpasses time or the years or the era that we're in because they're dealing with the human condition in all their words ... This is written in 1952, it was written about 1863 and we're sitting in 2017 and people still want to see it on stage every night."

Laura Michelle Kelly

On getting to perform these songs night after night

"These songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, they're incredible. And that's why they keep getting redone again and again and again. No, it's a pleasure to sing these every night, and I think they're a standard for our generation to be like, 'Well, we've got to make musicals as beautiful and as genius as them.' And I think, you know, people like Lin-Manuel Miranda created 'Hamilton,' it was breaking the mold, and will last a lifetime, and more. And that's exactly what they did. And it surpasses time, or the years or the era that we're in, because they're dealing with the human condition in all their words. And, as I said, this is written in 1952, it was written about 1863, and we're sitting in 2017 and people still want to see it onstage every night. It's exquisite and genius and heart-opening. And those are the kinds of productions that I want to be part of."

On the 45-pound dress she has to wear

"It takes four people to put it on, three people now. But Cathy Zuber, she's won — there's no question why she won the Tony for best costume design. The costumes we're all wearing are exquisite, this being one of them. And yes, it's 45 pounds, but it looks beautiful and it moves so well. It's so pretty to watch."

On meeting Julie Andrews

"My voice has definitely been colored by Julie Andrews. I watched her every day of my youth on 'The Sound of Music.' And I met Julie Andrews. I was so nervous when she watched the show. My skirt fell off, and I had to sit down the whole scene because it was going to come off. I was just mortified. I was more nervous about her coming to see me than [Queen Elizabeth II] when she came and saw me play Eliza in 'My Fair Lady.' I was more nervous about Julie. She's my queen."

More Photos

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in "The King and I." (Courtesy Matthew Murphy)
Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in "The King and I." (Courtesy Matthew Murphy)
(Matthew Murphy)
(Courtesy Matthew Murphy)

This article was originally published on May 01, 2017.

This segment aired on May 1, 2017.



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