By Robert Diamond
March 2, 2005
No stranger to leading roles, having taken on lead roles in Phantom, Titanic, Jesus Christ Superstar and more, Kevin now embarks on one of his largest projects yet, reprising his role as the King of Siam in a new year long tour of England in The King and I.
The King is a part that you've played on Broadway, why reprise it now at this point of your career?
I think the role of The King is a role you can play throughout a lifetime, as indeed Yul Brynner did. I have not been completely satisfied with my previous attempts, and thought I might risk one more shot at it. A lot has happened in my life since I last tried this on, and it was the first role I had ever repeated in my career. I am older, I've lost my father, which definitely is a big change of life moment, or at least was for me, and I am looking at far less road ahead of me than behind me for the first time in my life. In addition, the political climate of the world makes the show relevant again, as we again must examine the business of Western intervention in Eastern culture, and the price of these impositions; the difference between change and progress, if you will, and the price of each in terms of language, history, religion, and culture.
Are you approaching it any differently then you did on Broadway?
Absolutely. I was a replacement on Broadway, and had the difficult task of joining a pre-existing interpretation, where my ideas had to be adjusted to a specific world of the play. It always felt a bit like wearing someone else's suit. Not bad, but not necessarily mine. This production is different in many ways.
Stephen Rayne, our director, had never worked on this piece before, and so I was freed of much of the mythology, and yet he wanted to approach the piece from the original text. He went back to the original, pre-Broadway scripts and culled some new dialogue, with the intention of clarifying the political climate of Siam in the period. And we have a much younger actress, Elizabeth Renihan, playing Mrs. Anna. It creates a relationship more like the actual age difference between the King and Anna. So, it was a chance for me to try to forget previous ideas and actions and begin again, with the story, and to build from step one.
Do you seek out or avoid performance details of the performers who originated your recent parts? Michael Crawford? Jonathan Pryce? Yul Brynner?
I neither seek out nor avoid. I never saw Michael Crawford, I saw Jonathan Pryce once, and saw the movie of The King and I but never the stage performance of Yul Brynner. All are great performers, so avoiding their interpretations was never an issue. But they are who they are and I am, well, you get the idea... still, it is nicer to follow in the footsteps of actors that you respect.
What are some other classic parts that you'd like to take on?
I'd love to try Sweeney Todd, I'd like to do George in Sunday In The Park, and I'd love a shot at Macbeth, and maybe Coriolanus. But there are so many. I always wanted to do Deathtrap, for example. And I should definitely like to play Dracula. I appeared in a chamber musical based on the novel that I wrote with my wife, Dodie Pettit, but I fear recent productions have killed off this particular theme for a while.
The tour's just kicked off in January, but what's touring England been like for you?
I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience. The cast and crew are fantastic and I've been treated very well. London is always great, and now I have a chance to see much of the UK, and to make new friends here. It is extremely refreshing to be out of the grip of US news reporting, and to get a different perspective on the world.
What's your favorite part of performing the show each night?
I love standing in the wings during the Overture and imagining that someone in the audience is seeing the show for the first time, and for someone else it's perhaps their first musical or play, or that someone has loved the show and is sharing it with a loved one, or child, or grandchild. Or that someone who did the show as a child is revisiting Siam. It is a great privilege and always makes me axious to get out there and tell the story.
You're one of a small group of actors to make the transition from Raoul to the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, what was that experience like?
Phantom has always been a very deeply felt experience for me, and one that I hope to revisit one day. And I met my wife on that show, so I'll always owe Hal Prince and Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber a huge debt of gratitude. I loved playing both roles, and it was a very important part of my theatrical education and development to move from juvenile roles to the leading man, and in that case, the starring role, which is different yet again in its demands. I always feel grateful that I learned those lessons on that show, at that time, and with those people.
How have audiences on the tour been reacting to the show?
The response has been fantastic, overwhelming actually. It is remarkable the life of this piece. Fifty plus years and it is still being discovered anew.
When was the first time you saw/heard the show?
When I was a kid my Dad used to let me stay up late to watch movies. He'd point out actors he liked and shared his favorite films with me. The King and I was one of them.
How do you see the character of the King evolving throughout the show?
He's a man astride a country in huge transition, which he has initiated. He wants a more Western, more technological nation. In a way, I think it's probably like many countries today, trying to stay up with the latest innovations, yet wanting to choose the ones they feel are worthy without being swallowed whole by another culture. He feels the enormous weight of leadership, where every decision means so very much to so many, and he has severe doubts. So, he is literally being pulled apart by the two worlds, the past and the future.
I feel the issue of mortality and legacy more than ever myself, so I am keenly aware of the character's conflict in this area. As he gets to understand Anna and adjust his views on the world, he is able to prevent the one thing he fears the most, which is losing his country to a protectorate, which Siam, and modern day Thailand have managed to avoid even today. I believe it is the only country of their neighbors to have avoided that fate. I think he dies satisfied that although he was not able to accomplish all he wanted to in his lifetime, his son Chulalongkorn will carry on his work and his dreams for Siam. That is good thing, I believe...