Saturday, January 08, 2005

Actress couldn't be happier as lead in 'The King and I'

For actress Stefanie Powers, it doesn't get much better than this.

Powers, 62, best known for her role as Jennifer Hart in television's "Hart to Hart" opposite Robert Wagner, is filling her days and nights as Anna in the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical "The King and I." She couldn't be happier.

"If you want to do musical theater, which I love to do, there is hardly a better show and hardly a better part," Powers gushed, in a telephone interview from rehearsals in Fort Myers, Fla.

The show, a new production of the family friendly musical, visits Detroit's Fisher Theatre Jan. 11-30, where Powers also starred with Wagner in "Love Letters" several years ago.

"I'm very happy to be coming to Detroit. But it's cold!" she said, munching on her lunch as she spoke. The actress, otherwise known for her glamour and grace, was pressed for time.

Speaking of food, she's a fan of Detroit for that very reason. Powers, a proud Pole born Stefania Federkiewicz, can't wait to visit Hamtramck for the great Polish food.

Powers is also quite excited about this new production, namely because it's one much closer in theme and tone to the original 1946 film "Anna and the King of Siam," the inspiration for the original musical.

Powers played Anna before in a 2002 British touring version of the show, but welcomes the changes this production brings. The character Anna takes front and center this time around, making it a more authentic representation of what she says Rodgers and Hammerstein initially set out to do. It tells the story of English widow Anna Leonowens, the real-life inspiration for the bestselling 1944 novel, "Anna and the King of Siam" by Margaret Landon.

The musical, set in the 1860s in the capital city of Bangkok, is essentially a love story between a powerful, stubborn king, and a determined governess, Anna, whom he hires to educate his many children.

Expect opulent settings, gorgeous costumes and standards such as "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance?"

"This is a lovely company with some wonderfully talented people," Powers said.

Among them is director Baayork Lee, who actually played a child of the king in the original Broadway production from 1951.

Choreographer Susan Kikuchi is the daughter of Yuriko Kikuchi, a lead dancer from that 1951 production and choreographer of the recent revival.

"Here we are, all these years later," Powers added. "We are putting together a production that resembles much more the original show.

"We think of it as a freshly restored version, and that's what we're doing."

She calls the musical the best of the best, pointing to other works by famed composer Rodgers and lyricist Hammerstein as well.

"This is the American art form, the American style musical show. Nobody did it better," she said.

When she isn't working in musicals and plays -- "You think of nothing else. All life stops," she said of theater -- she's busy at the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, a public charity dedicated to the preservation of wild animals in Kenya.

"It's my baby," she said.

She helped found the organization for Holden, a close companion who passed away in 1981, and she still serves as president.

Between acting, working with that organization, and balancing homes in Los Angeles, London and Kenya, Powers also found time to record her debut CD, the first in a career that began in film work when she was just 15 years old.

"On the Same Page," a jazz album of American standards, was released in 2003.

"It's just a love affair of music that we put together with friends," she said.

Tickets for "The King and I," Jan. 11-30 at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, are $30.50 to $68, and are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, and the Fisher Theatre Box Office, online at or To charge by phone, call (248) 645-6666.

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