'The King and I' performances set to begin at Missouri Theatre

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 | 6:14 p.m. CDT; updated 4:08 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 7, 2008
Olivia Heisner, playing the part of Anna Leonowens, and Matt Howard, playing the part of King Mongkut, perform in the King and I. The play held dress rehearsal on Wednesday night the Missouri Theater,

COLUMBIA - Forty-one kids, 29 orchestra members, a 16-minute ballet, 37 songs and more than 140 hours of rehearsal. All this goes into making a two-hour, all-kid production of "The King and I."

The PACE, or Performing Arts in Children's Education, production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I" features a full orchestra and elaborate costumes.

If you go

WHAT: PACE production of “The King and I”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.
ADMISSION: Tickets, $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger, are available at the Missouri Theatre box office, by phone at 875-0600 or online at

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Of the cast members, the youngest is 7 and the oldest is 18. At one point, all 41 kids are on stage.

"The King and I" is the story of an English widow, Anna, who becomes a school teacher for the children of the King of Siam in the 1860s. Director Angela Howard chose this play for a number of reasons.

"One, I think that Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are classic in more than one way," Howard said. "They have great scenes in them, not the typical ‘High School Musical' thing. They have serious themes. ‘The King and I' has the most beautiful music in it."

Her second reason is simpler: She knew she had the talent to pull off such a complex, involved musical.

Starring as the king in the production is 16-year-old Matt Howard, a junior at Hickman High School and Angela Howard's son. Olivia Heisner, 18, a recent Hickman grad, plays Anna.

Because the play contains such complex themes and advanced character development, Howard found herself working and re-working scenes with the young actors.

"A couple of times I had to give them scenarios to help with the subtext," said Howard, who took a break from styling hair for dress rehearsal Tuesday night to talk about the show. "The Prime Minister really lets Anna have it at one part, but these kids are friends. So I told him, ‘Imagine she's a drunk driver and your friend died in the accident.' At one point I had to say, ‘Make her cry.'"

For musical director and pit conductor Trent Rash, working on the "The King and I" is quite an undertaking, as this is his first time conducting a pit orchestra.

"I was a little nervous," Rash said, "but it's been a wonderful experience, mainly because I've been working with such wonderful musicians."

He was not only in charge of teaching the cast all the songs, but he also had to conduct the oversized 29-piece orchestra. "For a pit, that is quite large," Rash said. "There are normally 12 to 15 players, but ‘The King and I' is one of those scores that calls for a few more."

He has worked with the cast for four hours a day, Monday through Friday, since the last week in June. In the first week of rehearsal alone, the cast learned all 25 songs they sing. The orchestra has been practicing even longer, since mid-June, with two-hour rehearsals every Sunday.

Unlike past PACE productions, the orchestra is not solely made up of children. There are also several adults sprinkled in who are in some way related to children in the production. The lead clarinet player has a daughter in the show, and the bass player's daughter is the lead violinist, Rash said.

Before becoming the musical director of this show, "The King and I" was not one of Rash's favorites, as he found it rather "stoic." But working on this production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic changed his opinion.

"This has grown into being one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein shows," Rash said. "The story line, music and visual aspect are so beautiful."

Both Rash and Howard agree that the most difficult part of the production was the 16-minute "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet, which features six made-to-fit masks created by Howard's daughter-in-law, Maggie Killian, and choreography for 11 dancers by Morgan Patterson. The difficulty for the orchestra came from the Eastern-influenced music, tricky rhythms and interesting melodic structure, Rash said.

And, despite many years of training, learning traditional Thai dance was worlds away from what many of the dancers were used to.

"They had to practice bending their fingers way back," Howard said. "I don't know if you've ever tried bending your fingers back, but it hurts me!"


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