Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Powers likes life on the road as Anna in 'The King and I'

"The King and I"
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Sept. 15; 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Sept. 16; 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 17; 1 and 6 p.m. Sept. 18
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, Third Avenue at B Street, San Diego
Tickets: $22-$60
Info: (619) 570-1100

Stefanie Powers may be better known for her long-running role on television's "Hart to Hart" for the past four years, but it's the stage role of Anna Leonowens in "The King and I" that has ruled her life.

The veteran actress starred as the fussy English schoolteacher in the West End production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and she is reprising the part this year in the U.S. national tour, which arrives in San Diego on Tuesday.

Set in 1860s Siam, the musical tells the story of the prickly relationship between the nation's progressive but stubborn king and the widowed teacher whom he hired to educate his many wives and children. Powers answered a few questions about the tour in a phone interview from her Los Angeles home last week.

Q: The tour has been receiving great reviews since it launched in January. To what do you attribute the success?

A: We've received the highest seal of approval from the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate, which feels great. I think our version of the show is probably as close to the original Broadway production as it can possibly be due in great part to two elements. Our director, Baayork Lee, played a princess in the original production with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner. And Susan Kikuchi, our choreographer, is the daughter of the show's original lead dancer. They've worked very hard to re-create Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein's original intent.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the role of Anna?

A: I did a lot of research on both Anna's life and the history of the period. I've always been a student of history and I love the Far East and I used to have a home in Hong Kong. I'm fascinated with that period in history, the Industrial Revolution and the enlargement of the British empire.

Q: What about the role of Anna appeals to you?

Powers: It's a gift to perform her. If you like doing musical theater and you're a woman, then this part is about as good as it gets. When the producers decided to do a U.S. tour, they came to me and asked if I'd be interested. The deal was sealed when I was lucky enough to get the actor who had played the king with me in England, Ronobir Lahiri.

Q: Why do you like working with Ronobir?

A: He's a wonderful, generous actor, and there's such a fluidity in the way we work together. It's like a great tennis match when you know the person on the other side of the net will definitely lob the ball back to you.

Q: The musical calls for you to work with a lot of children onstage. Has that been a challenge?

A: The kids are wonderful. They're just a joy. They all tend to look upon me as Mrs. Anna and they look to me for leadership, so I always try to take them out on field trips in every city we visit.

Q: What kind of field trips?

A: I have another life in wildlife conservation and I have friends at all the zoos around the country, so I've taken them to zoos in every city we've visited. Of course, we're coming to the San Diego Zoo for a behind-the-scenes tour when we're down there.

Q: What's life like on the road?

A: Well, fortunately we've had a couple of months off this summer, but we start back up in San Diego. The road is all about packing and unpacking like a circus. It's hard but it's rewarding.

Q: When you're not touring, how else are you spending your time?

A: I'm the president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. We have ongoing projects in East Africa and a sister organization, the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. We have breeding programs for 37 species. My baby is the education center where we serve 11,000 students a year. We're focused on wildlife conservation and alternatives to destruction of the habitat for animals and humans.

Q: Do you have any free time left for frivolous hobbies?

A: I guess my only frivolous activity is polo. I love my horses and I love visiting my homes in L.A., London and Kenya.

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