Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: DECEMBER 11, 2009
This time of year, folks think about theater in terms of the ‘takeaway.’ Not prizes or presents, but the emotional or philosophical reward of a heartfelt story that reminds us of the gift of benevolence. One local production gives the message onstage; one, off.
“The King and I” isn’t what you’d think of as a holiday show, though its East-meets-West theme of tolerance and mutual understanding is timeless. But in the J*Company youth theater’s “King and I,” part of its year-long season of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, the most remarkable act is taking place behind the scenes.
In the compelling, fact-based story about a widowed Englishwoman invited to teach the 64 royal children of the prolific king of Siam , the lead actor is 17 year-old Daniel Myers. As soon as he was named King, Myers asked his director if he had to shave his head, in the iconic fashion of Yul Brynner , who originated the role on stage and screen. Even after he was told that he wouldn’t have to relinquish his profusion of dark curls, Myers came back to his director, and said he’d still like to go cueball , to raise awareness and money for young cancer patients.
Director Joey Landwehr, profoundly moved by the young man’s generosity of spirit, decided to shave his head too, in solidarity. So far, the two have raised more than $5200 for the Miracle Maker program at Rady Children’s Hospital. And oh yes, P.S.: Myers is spectacular in the role – both vocally and dramatically. He captures the King’s sometimes shocking duality: his curiosity and intransigence, his enslavement of women but openness to European language and customs. Myers has a wonderful rapport with his leading lady, Ali Viterbi ; their connection is palpable. The cast of 60, ranging in age from 7 to 17, backed by a 20-piece orchestra, is variable but impressive. The backstory should be enough to entice you to revisit this great musical classic – and see some inspiring talent of tomorrow.
There’s plenty of young talent on the Old Globe stage, too, for the 12th incarnation of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” One of the alternating Cindy-Lou Whos , that little darling who melts the old Meanie’s heart, is a mere 6 years old, the adorably hammy Shea Starrs Siben . Sporting the furry green suit this year is Jeff Skowron , a veteran of the New York production, who’s very, very funny in the title role. Having been tricked up for Broadway, the show is slicker and a little less simple and sweet than it was at the outset. But it still looks beautiful and magical, and the non-materialistic holiday message still resonates melodically.
So, embrace the spirit of giving this season; it’s certainly something to sing about.
The J* Company Production Of “The King And I” runs through the weekend at the JCC in La Jolla .
“Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” continues through December 27 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER