Two Fil-Ams portray key ‘Lady’ roles in ‘The King and I’
LOS ANGELES — Filipino American actors Joan Almedilla and Paulina Yeung star in vital roles in La Mirada Theatre’s upcoming production of the beloved musical “The King and I.”
Almedilla will play Lady Thiang, the king’s chief wife, and Yeung will play Tuptim, the young romantic lead. Both actors are revisiting roles that they’ve portrayed in previous productions of this work with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein.
Based on the experiences of Anna Leonowens and set in the late 1860s, the musical is about how she is hired by the King of Siam (now Thailand) to be an English tutor for his children.
This is the fourth time that Yeung is portraying Tuptim. “The most recent time was at Drury Lane Theatre in London last year. And prior to that were the US and UK tours,” she says.
As for Almedilla, whose credits include St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre and the first US tour, she says she is very excited to revisit Lady Thiang. “I still get nervous. The anticipation is nerve wracking!” she says. “The good news is it usually leans toward excitement rather than fear.
“I fear staleness. I fear acting on autopilot, that I’m just a voice, not connected to my whole being and my intentions. To overcome my fears, I practice the art of gratitude and surrender. Gratitude from getting ready for rehearsal to the moment I enter the stage door until after every show.
“Surrendering happens in every scene. To me it’s like giving birth. You can prepare all the things you need but when the baby comes, you just surrender. Some find joy, some feel complete exhaustion but you surrender. And I don’t mean giving up. In acting, you surrender to your imagination. When you surrender you leave room for listening and responding.”
Both women explain that working with new collaborators afford different ways of approaching the material and their characters.
“Working with a new creative team and cast makes it fresh,” says Yeung. “There’s always new things about the character that I discover each time I revisit the role, little details and nuances.”
Almedilla says, “Working with a new director is very important to me. I have heard amazing things about our director Glenn Casale, all of which are true. The first thing he said to me was to focus on finding new things about my character rather than finding new ways of doing things. When you search deeper about a character, the doing will come naturally.
“Glenn is intelligent and warm. He shares his vision and leaves room for the actors to find what not only feels right but what fulfills the character’s goals. And that involves trying different things. He moves at a fast pace and yet every moment is treated with respect and doesn’t feel at all rushed.”
Both have fond memories and funny stories of past performances.
Yeung shares, “I’ve choked while narrating the ballet and have had my costume get caught on the hanging flower vines on stage. Live theater is exciting because you never know what to expect each night!”
Almedilla says that when she was part of the first national tour, it was “extra special because I got to share the stage with my son, CJ Uy. He played one of the royal children. We toured the US and Canada for almost two years together. I will never forget the amazing memories and friendships we made!”
If they could play any male role in the musical, Yeung chooses Lun Tha, Tuptim’s romantic partner. Almedilla says, “If you had asked me this question when I was still in my 20s, I would definitely go for Simon of Legree,” referring to the antagonist role that requires strong dancing skills. She quickly adds, “Okay fine, now my answer is the King!”
La Mirada Theater’s “The King and I” runs April 21 – May 14. Visit lamiradatheatre.com.