Iconic musical The King and I returns to Liverpool – We get all the info from Broadway star Darren Lee.
2 months ago
The classic musical The King and I is finally back on the Liverpool Empire stage, almost three years after lockdown forced the show to close halfway through its run in the city.
Broadway star Darren Lee, who plays the King, had been making the most of his first stay here when the pandemic hit.
“I hadn’t had chance to see much of the UK before I joined the tour, I’d only been to London to film projects or on holiday, but I’d had a really great time in Liverpool on my first time,” he says.
“I’d got to see some sights, including the Beatles museum, and I was looking forward to being able to immerse myself in what was going on.
“My parents were actually coming in from South California to see the show in Liverpool the week that everything shut down. I was so close to having that big moment where they got to see me play the King, and instead I was on one of the last flights back to the US.”
Luckily for Darren, and for audiences who’ve been wowed by the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical for generations, the tour has started up again.
And at the end of February, it returns to the Empire with Darren in the role of the King of Siam, opposite Call The Midwife’s Helen George as Anna.
The production is a stunning spectacle which won four Tony awards for its Broadway revival and played a sold-out season at London’s Palladium before its UK tour.
For Darren, whose Broadway credits include Chicago, Miss Saigon and Guys and Dolls, the role of the King was always one he’d set his sights on.
“As an Asian American performer I grew up in South California and moved to New York City the year I graduated from high school to pursue a career in theatre,” he explains. “There was definitely an awareness that there was this role, the King of Siam, in this classic and well received musical.
“As I was working my way through my career and finally reaching an age at which I could actually play him the awareness became more heightened and the reality of it coming to fruition has been really awesome.”
He made his debut in the King and I at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in 2017 before joining the US tour.
It’s been more than 70 years since the King and I was first staged on Broadway, based on Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam.
But Darren says its popularity and its relevance remain just as strong today.
“There are certain shows that are considered iconic – these are the ones that come back season after season and carry on being audience favourites – and King and I is one of those.
“I think sometimes you have more modern musicals that might hit the contemporary nature of what’s happening at a particular moment in time but King and I somehow seems to have stayed relevant over a very long period of time.
“It’s interesting to revisit the book of the musical because that is about a king who is trying to bring his country into the modern era and make sure it’s not swallowed up by surrounding countries. Obviously that’s something we still deal with today which is one reason why it still has such an audience appeal.”
There’s a nostalgic golden age of musicals feel to the show too which gives it an extra feelgood factor.
“For anyone who is looking to see what classic musical theatre is like, it absolutely delivers in all departments,” says Darren. “The scenery is very lavish and gorgeous, the costumes are Tony award-winning, they’re absolutely extraordinary, and the direction is really smart. The director creates the most beautiful stage pictures so it’s wonderful to work on as an actor.”
Although he’s been bringing the King and I to towns and cities across America, and now the UK, Darren says he never tires of performing it, especially the best-loved moments.
“My favourite part is the culmination of the relationship between Anna and the King, and that includes the entire sequence of the song Shall We Dance which obviously features the polka scene. I look forward to it every time.
“The wonderful thing about live theatre is the audience is new every day and even though we say the same lines we don’t necessarily say them the same way so every moment stays exciting.”
The King and I is at the Liverpool Empire from Tuesday February 21 to Saturday February 25. Book tickets here.