I love Olney Theatre Center’s production of The King and I and I am thrilled to have a chance to schmooze with the King and his School Teacher. Here is my interview with Eileen Ward who is playing Anna in The King and I.
Joel: How did you get cast in Olney’s production of The King and I?
Eileen: I sent in my pic/resume for an audition and got called in.
When did you get the call that you had the role of Anna?
Chris Youstra called me and it was a few days after my audition.
Why did you want to play Anna? How do you relate to her?
The King and I has long been one of my favorites. The role of Anna and the musical’s book are well written, and the part is a privilege and challenge for any musical theater actress to play. I can relate to Anna’s humor, honesty, and independent nature. However, I think she is a far more adventurous and intrepid soul than I am. I have a hard time just eating Sushi!
What do you admire most about Anna?
Anna was ahead of her time. She is a feminist and a survivor in a man’s world…and a foreign country to boot! I admire everything about her!
You have played Anna before. What is different this time in how you are playing her, and the way Mark Waldrop is directing you?
I was the understudy Anna in a national tour, but I never got to go on. I then played her for three short weeks in a summer stock production at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. That production left me with many beautiful memories and friendships but the rehearsal period was brief. I was cast with the understudy from the tour, which was fortunate because of the short amount of rehearsal time. But now, with this production, we were able to take our time and really explore our characters. We sat down at a table and did book work. Questions arose, and then we went about finding the answers. I LOVED EVERY MINUTE. It is the best part of the rehearsal process.
Every note Mark gave me was dead on. I looked forward to getting them. And I now miss them. Iif I ever questioned something, he listened and helped me figure it out. His notes helped me make better and clearer choices.The best one, in my view, was for me to hold back emotionally in the last scene until the very last moment, the moment when I am once again and for the last time called to the King’s side. That I was to be brave, help usher in a new king and teach his children in his final moments. I was his “Whistle a Happy Tune.”
My Anna feels stronger and more determined this time around. This, I feel, puts her on firmer ground with the King; she is more his equal. I think a stronger Anna leads to a deeper emotional payoff at the play’s end. Mark understood and was all over this. His direction led me there.
How does Anna change throughout the musical?
She has to learn to put her stubbornness and temper aside. She has to be clever and manipulate on occasion in order to teach or guide. And she begins to realize that she is not only a teacher but also a student. Anna, to her great surprise, also falls in love for the second time in her life. It is largely unspoken and certainly would be forbidden in the world she is from, but it is there, at least that is what we have tried to accomplish in our production. And love is always life changing.
What do you admire most about Paolo’s Montalban’s performance as The King?
Paolo keeps me on my toes! And I step on his… literally in “Shall We Dance!” We have been in performance for a little over a week, and the energy is always like opening night. I know right now his performance will never be routine. He will throw something new at me each evening. It is give-and-take, as it should be. He is extremely generous to all involved in telling this story. No one is a star. It is collaboration. And I revel in every moment.
Which songs that you don’t sing in the show are your favorites, and which song that you perform or someone else performs moves you the most every time you hear it performed in the show?
Two of my favorite songs in The King and I are the love songs. “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” But YoonJeong Seong ‘s rendition of “My Lord and Master” gets me every time. Her voice is stunning, just as she is. Their tragic story, much like Anna’s and the King’s, is about love they cannot have.
Do you enjoy performing with kids, and what has been the most fun performing with these cute and talented kids in The King and I?
Yes! There is so much to be learned from children. And I so enjoy watching them discover. I can tell who has been bitten by the showbiz bug!
Why do you think The King and I remains so popular 62 years after it opened on Broadway?
The music and story are timeless.
What did you learn about yourself as an actor while rehearsing and performing the role of Anna?
A lesson I learn each time I rehearse, no matter the show, that I have to relearn each and every time, is to trust and be good to myself. I am my most severe critic!
You have performed here at Olney Theatre Center in The Secret Garden and 1776. How has your Olney experiences been?
I always enjoy my time here. It is like coming home. I get to see old friends, and I love the area, the trees, the deer, and all this while I do what makes me happy.
What are you doing next on the stage after The King and I closes? Any roles that you are dying to play that you haven’t played before?
I go back to auditioning. I would welcome the opportunity to play Kate in Kiss Me Kate, or Liz in 110 in the Shade. But I also love doing straight shows, which is pretty much what I have been doing the last several years. Especially some of the Irish ones. Dancing at Lughnasa is on my bucket list!