The Children's Theater, Inc. reminds us that bravery can go a long way in its upcoming production "The King and I," opening Saturday at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in downtown Dover.
It's the early 1860s in Siam, Bangkok (later known as Thailand) and its heavy-handed ruler, The King, has a reputation of being a barbarian in the minds of the British. Despite the rumors, British school teacher Anna Leonowens has accepted The King's offer to tutor his sea of royal children, born from his many wives. The King realizes one of the most effective ways to modernize Siam is through a sound education, as does the caring Leonowens.
Though tenderhearted, Leonowens is no pushover. She's courageous and stands up to The King when she feels it's appropriate, something unheard of in Siam. For instance, she confronts The King in front of his wives and royal children for breaching her contract by lodging her and Louis, her son, in his palace instead of in a private residence. In addition, the combination of her compassion for The King and her willingness to introduce him to Western culture crumbles the concrete around his heart.
"You can definitely tell a softer side is coming out of him," said Kevin Hartigan, 15, of Dover, cast as The King. "That's definitely shown in the scene where he holds up the whip and he's not morally strong enough to whip the slave who ran away. That definitely shows Ms. Anna is corrupting his authority over his kingdom."
While the nice-guy Hartigan makes playing the domineering King look natural, he claims it's just smoke and mirrors. "It's still hard to say the lines, because a lot of times I'm feeling guilty because it's mean. He's just a mean guy sometimes."
Sydney Palmer, however, doesn't feel remorse when portraying the strong-willed Leonowens. She relishes the character's personality, which has spilled over into her personal life.
"She has a very spitfire spirit," said Palmer, 18, of Dover. "She's very polite but she's going to stand up for herself and I think that leads into what I do every day in my life now. So it's fun, because I'm not usually like that."
Palmer is the kind of person who likes to take time out of her schedule to help young actors at the Children's Theater hone their skills. And with a cast of 50-plus in the show, of which the majority play The King's royal children with the youngest being 2 years old, Palmer has had ample opportunity to mentor the young actors, doing things like herding them to their right spots on the set and teaching them blocking.
"I think it's great to have the little ones around," she said. "I love being a role model for them and I hope someday they want to be in my shoes."
Page 2 of 2 - Director Sharon Crossen says one of the main reasons she was attracted to "The King and I" was because it's a large show mostly comprised of children and she felt they'd benefit from being tutored by older cast members.
"We try to include as many children as possible," said Crossen, of Dover. "We try to expose them to theater, so we thought this was a great opportunity for the older kids to play the adult roles and for the younger kids, of course, to play themselves in these roles."
IF YOU GO
WHAT The King and I musical
WHEN 7 p.m., Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday
WHERE Schwartz Center for the Arts, 226 S. State St., Dover
COST $10 for adults; $8 for children
INFO schwartzcenter.com or call (302) 678-3583