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East meets West on the W.Va. stage

February 27, 2007|by DAVID BURKEY

Forbidden love, elegant songs, a graceful ballet, a clash between Eastern and Western cultures - these are elements that are masterfully crafted together in the classic, Tony Award-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I."

Walker Performing Arts, the youth theater company I belong to, is gearing up to present this musical this weekend. During the past few months, the cast and crew have practiced songs and complicated dance numbers, rehearsed scenes and even learned how to speak with southeast Asian accents.

We have learned the story of the show, and it is not your typical romantic musical. The story follows Anna Leonowens, a British school teacher who agrees to go to Siam to teach the children of the king of Siam. The king does this to help bring Western thought to Siam.

However, the king and Anna often end up disagreeing over what is considered right in Siam and in England. Despite their disagreements, they still develop a sense of respect and even affection for each other.


Gabi Schiro, the 17-year-old actress who has taken on the challenging role of Anna, says this is the most challenging role she has ever performed with Walker Performing Arts.

"Because Anna has such a turbulent relationship with the King, she is unlike most romantic heroines in Rodgers and Hammerstein's work," Gabi says.

It is also a very complex play, she says.

I play the king, and I think my role is the most challenging role I have performed. For the first time, I have really taken a close look at the character of the person I play and how I want him to be presented to the audience.

This is what can make acting interesting. Ten different people could be given the same character and each one play it differently. Plus, I think about the changes the King goes through in the play. One thing we are taught in the company's theater classes is that almost every character change during a production.

Mary McGinley, 14, who plays one of the king's many wives, gives some insight into putting such a large-scale production together.

"It is a lot of fun, but it takes concentration and discipline to rehearse all the dances and songs," Mary says.

Mary says that she takes her role very seriously even though she does not have many lines. In doing this, Mary makes sure she is always in character for all of her scenes and shows correct body language, such as reacting to what the focus is in each scene.

Krissy DiMercurio, 14, plays Lady Thiang, the king's head wife.

"It's cool to have all the different age groups in this play, but we can all still get along and have fun doing this at the same time," Krissy says.

In rehearsals, students from elementary age through high school age work together.

Says Teri Walker, director of Walker Performing Arts: "Normally that would be a challenge, but because many of my students have so much training and experience doing theater, they have each taken on a mentoring role and have participated in teaching the younger and less experienced students. Having them take on that parenting role on and off stage has been a fun, improvisational activity."

She says that one of the biggest challenges for this show has been teaching the accent of Siam. Plus, the show itself is much more complex than meets the eye.

"This is a show that we would not have been able to tackle a couple of years ago," she says. "Many of our students have been working on building their acting skills and are at a point where they are more than up to this challenge."

If you go ...

WHAT: "The King and I"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3; and2 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

WHERE: Educational hall at St. John's Lutheran Church, 141 S. Potomac St., Hagers-town. The church is across the street from Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown.

COST: Tickets are $15; $12 for students.

CONTACT: Call 301-991-0611.

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