I caught up with Lee in Sydney while he was in town for one day, a brief interlude, before heading back to Melbourne for the final rehearsals of John Frost and Opera Australia’s production of The King and I.
Lee last played the role of the King at the London Palladium in 2000 opposite Elaine Paige. There are similarities between the productions, Christopher Renshaw is in Australia directing once again, but Lee says the cast is more youthful and therefore there is a different energy to this production.
Lee will be performing opposite Lisa McCune for the Melbourne season. Trained in martial arts, he confesses that the timing and balance he has learned from years of training benefits his dance technique which he has had to master for the delightfully captivating Shall We Dance. Lee admits there is symmetry between martial arts and dance which has helped him in this role.
Although Lee is well known for his film roles he loves the spark and spontaneity of the theatre. The King and I is different to other musicals in that it comes with the particular challenge of working with lots of young children. Lee laughs off the challenge, he has a four year old so knows all about young children turning their backs on direction. He says it just means he has to be switched on, when the children decide to improvise, which does happen, he and the rest of the cast have to seamlessly respond.
The role of the King has a physicality to it. Lee continues his aerobic training for this role as some of the pieces require a good deal of stamina. His costumes are heavily beaded weighing him down at times, but he admits that he does change into lighter attire for the movement pieces!
While Lisa McCune has many of the musical numbers, Lee says his role is to project a strong intention rather than a beautiful melodic voice, something Yul Brynner perfected in the 1956 Hollywood film.
Based on Margaret Landon's 1944 novel inspired by the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, a British governess to the children of the King of Siam in the 1860s, The King and I is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fifth musical and perhaps the best loved of them all.
The King and I opens on the 10th June at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.
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