Paolo Montalban and Kate Baldwin star in a Lyric Opera performance
If ever a role was defined by a single performer, it’s the Siamese monarch portrayed by Yul Brynner in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” He not only originated the role on Broadway, but starred in the 1956 film version and the 1977 revival. And while no one could match that record, for Paolo Montalban, “The King and I” is almost as much a part of his professional life as it was for Brynner. He first appeared carrying a spear in the 1996 Broadway revival, and assumes the royal stance in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production opening April 29.
Perhaps best known for starring as the Prince in ABC’s rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” (with a cast that included Brandy Norwood, Whitney Houston, Bernadette Peters and Jason Alexander), Montalban has played various parts in “The King and I” over the years. In addition to the title role, he’s performed in the ensemble and appeared as Lun Tha, the young scholar who falls in love with one of the king’s consorts. His Lyric appearance marks his eighth production of the classic show.
“I think ‘The King & I,’ which was considered ahead of its time in 1951, is still very relevant today,” Montalban says. “There is no expiration date on themes like the varied forms of love — love of country, love of family, love in friendship and romantic love. And now more than ever, the concept of tolerance and understanding between different countries, cultures and religions is one of the greatest lessons we can glean from this old-school musical.”
Playing Anna to Montalban’s monarch is Evanston-born, Northwestern-trained and Tony-nominated Kate Baldwin. Musing on the attraction that develops between the lead characters, Baldwin says: “Oscar Hammerstein was a master storyteller who never wrote a love song. He sets up the idea of falling in love, but never has a character come out and say ‘I love you.’ The song ‘Shall We Dance’ falls beautifully into this category. Anna is explaining a Western ball to the King, and before they know it, they are in each other’s arms and forced to investigate their true feelings for one another. They never say ‘I love you,’ and yet they do.”
‘The King and I’
April 29-May 22, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Upper Wacker. For tickets ($29-$159), visit Lyricopera.org/king
Now through May 29
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April 23 through Sept. 25
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