Published: November 9, 2005
Rodney Whatley, the new PJC theatre director, makes his debut with “The King and I.” It is ambitious to try to put on such an involved production as “The King and I,” after only five weeks of rehearsal, but that doesn’t seem to faze Whatley in the least.
“With ‘The King and I,’ we had the chance to tell a great story and to show a great spectacle,” Whatley said.
Whatley works with a six-member production team to put on the show, and if the rehearsals are any indication, this production of “The King and I,” gets it right.
“The King and I” follows Anna Leonowens, a young widowed schoolteacher from England. Anna goes to Siam in the 1860s to teach the children of King Mongkut. Upon meeting Anna and befriending her, the king begins to question things in his life, such as his religion and slavery. In a parallel story, Tuptim, one of King Mongkut’s many wives, falls in love with a man named Lun Tha. Because Tuptim is one of the King’s wives, she and Lun Tha are forbidden to be together. Anna and the King fall in love, but they too struggle to be together.
“It’s a beautiful story that has stood the test of time. It’s simply a classic,”
said Josh Walther, 24, who plays Phra Alack and George.
The whole atmosphere has been enjoyable and a great learning experience, according to Elizabeth Schmitz, 18, a dual-enrolled student who plays wife number four. “I consider it a great honor to be able to work with such great and intelligent people,” she said. “Rodney is a gifted director with inspired creativity. He is really a great role model for aspiring actors.”
Portraying the leads are Jennifer Del Gallo-Taylor as Anna Leonowens, and Benjamin Ayres as King Mongkut.
Del Gallo-Taylor said about her character, “It is a lot of fun for me to play Anna, because she is such a wonderful character. She has so many passions. A lot of characters are shallow, but Anna is really deep.”
Del Gallo-Taylor is a former PJC student who has done about 10 shows with the PJC theatre department. “PJC always has the best shows. They have the best scenery and the best costumer in town,” she said.
This is the first PJC production for Ayres, 22, a student from UWF, but he said that he would love to come back and do more productions with PJC.
“Director Rodney is just fantastic; everyone is fantastic,” Ayres said.
A big part of “The King and I” is its choreography, but with Michael Dennis in charge, Whatley has little to be concerned with.
“I tried to do something that was not typical of Western musicals,” Dennis said. Dennis, who spent several years in Japan, wanted the dancing to reflect the environment of the play. With an Asian vibe to it, the dancing fits right into place with the set and costumes.