Actress keeps career, activism going strong
Baby boomers have progressed through life with Stefanie Powers entertaining them. In the 1960s, she was April Dancer, "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." In the '70s, she made family movies, "The Boatniks" and "Herbie Rides Again," and lots of TV movies. Her biggest claim to fame, playing amateur detective Jennifer Hart on the popular TV series "Hart to Hart," began in 1979. The series was on the air to 1984, and the Harts reappeared in TV movie format for several encores in the '90s. Powers, 62, has also worked on the stage, and it is in that capacity that she will be coming to the Milwaukee Theatre on Tuesday to play Anna in a national touring company production of "The King and I." The show plays through Feb. 27. Tickets are on sale at the Milwaukee Theatre box office, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., online at www.ticketmaster.com, and by phone at (414) 276-4545. Journal Sentinel theater critic Damien Jaques interviewed Powers by e-mail.
Q. You are spending several months on the road with this show. How do you survive all of the different hotel rooms, different stages and daily restaurant meals?
A. It's not easy, but since we are in most cities for at least a week, I do eventually fall into some sort of routine. I do the best I can with what is
available and try to be careful about what I eat and that I remember to eat at all. I also try to exercise regularly. I like to run, and I do Pilates. In fact, I have a book called "Powers Pilates" coming out on March 1 from Simon & Schuster that contains a lot of simple exercises that can be done without equipment.
Q."The King and I" is an old, albeit beloved, musical. How do you make it fresh and exciting for 21st-century audiences?
A. This is a classical piece of theater, much beloved all over the world. We are trying to replicate the original production with the help of our director, Baayork Lee, who played the original Princess Ying Yaowlak in the original Gertrude Lawrence-Yul Brynner production, and our choreographer, Susan Kikuchi, whose mother was the original lead dancer. We are using the original Jerome Robbins choreography and consider this to be a celebration of the great American art form, the musical comedy, as brilliantly created by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Q. This musical debuted on Broadway in 1951. Our perception of Asian people has substantially changed since then. Have any changes been made in the show to reflect that?
A. Once again, we are doing the original play, which has stood the test of time. I would have to think very hard to come up with anything that has been produced in even the last 10 years that would still feel relevant 50 years later.
Q.You play Anna Leonowens, an actual British teacher who accepted an invitation in the 1860s to move to Siam and tutor the king's many children. How did you prepare for the role?
A. I did the role two years ago in England, where the biggest challenge, as an American, was to be accepted in the role of a Victorian woman. Since it went down rather well there, I suppose my homework at the time, learning about the history of the woman I was playing, paid off. I also prepared by working with a vocal coach to build up my stamina and vocal range, and I sing whenever I can.
Q.As well as being a screen and stage actress, you are known as a conservation and wildlife activist. Are you still involved in that cause?
A. That is a life-long commitment for me and is becoming an increasingly greater dimension in my life. I am the president and co-founder of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, which has its own Web site (www.whwf.org), where
people can keep up with our activities. They include an education center in Kenya that has hosted nearly 100,000 people since its programs began. I am also a principal in the Jaguar Conservation Trust, having authored the by-laws. I determine who receives grants for programs that are designed to preserve the endangered jaguar cat. . . . I am also extremely involved in current legislation pertaining to the future of the American wild horse, the mustang.