Behind the Scenes of ‘The King and I’

By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to star in a hit musical? Dance Informa caught up with three cast members of the The King and I, currently touring Australia, to find out what they do to prepare for their performances. Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain.

A day in the life of Adrian Li Donni, who plays the lover Lun Tha

7 a.m.: On a matinee show day, like Tuesday, I wake up at 7 a.m. and prepare my food for the day. I always make sure I have a hearty breakfast.

8:30 a.m.: I’ll get to the gym. The gym is important to keep fit and in shape. It is in my contract to maintain physicality and in scenes of the show I’m topless or have my chest showing. Physique is important for my character Lun Tha because he is young and I consider him to be a rebel of sorts.

At the gym, I’ll do strength exercises and I also work my flexibility. If I have time, I’ll also spend time in the steam room to relax my muscles and because steam is good for my voice as a singer. Steam combats air con and keeps my voice fresh.

10:30 a.m.: Spray tan appointment! I need to do this two hours before my first call to let it set so it doesn’t rub off onto my costumes. This is followed by post gym snack.

Lun Tha in The King and I

Adrian Li Donni as Lun Tha. Photo by Brian Geach.

12 p.m.: I arrive at the theatre half an hour early. I like to be early so I feel settled before a show. I don’t like to bring the outside world onto the stage.

12:30 p.m.: I take a quick shower and start the makeup and wig process. My makeup goes on before the wig because the wig contains netting that slightly covers your forehead. You can’t apply makeup over this netting as it becomes visible and ruins the illusion that it’s real hair. My wig looks a bit like Taylor Lautner’s hair from Twilight as it’s jet black and very long. It begins plaited and then is let out at intermission for my final scene. During this time, I also attach my microphone, which is slightly attached to my wig. There is a hole in the wig for my mike to come through.

1 p.m.: I do my own vocal warm-ups. I start with breathing exercises followed with scales and then singing the most difficult, highest passage of the song that I do in the show, “I have dreamed.” After this, at the five-minute call, I’ll head to the sound desk to do a microphone check.

1:30 p.m.: We start the show. My involvement in the show is spread out during the entire two and half hours. During this time in between scenes, I’ll costume change and prepare for my next scene. Before “We kiss in a shadow”, I’ll listen to classical music to prepare for the role, as the scene is quite dramatic. At the end of Act I, I do offstage singing even though I am not a part of the scene. This involves me watching a screen off the stage watching the conductor for my queues. Prior to my last scene, I like to do jumping jacks and listen to joyful music, the scene celebrates that me and my love interest believe we are about to run away with each other. This is the last time I’m on stage before bows.

4:15 p.m.: I have end-of-show dress down. It’s off with my wig and mike, and I have a nap before repeating for an evening show.

A day in the life of Elle Evangelista, who plays an ensemble member

5:30 p.m.: I ride into work. Although I’m only called into begin work at 6:30, I arrive about 45 minutes before. During this time, I’ll start my makeup and have a snack. A snack is important as once the show begins I have absolutely no time to refuel!

6:30 p.m.: Hour call! Physical and vocal warm-up begins at hour call. Our dance captain, Will, leads us in a warm-up and Tim from the orchestra runs a vocal warm-up. This is also the time where notes will be given from the previous show and rehearsed. If a swing is performing, it is during this time that we help them space scenes they’d like to practice on stage.

7 p.m.: Half-hour call! During this time I finish my makeup and hair. Getting the hair correct is a necessity! Although our hair is always in a bun, our amazing headpieces have been individually moulded to fit our head perfectly. To do this we had to put our hair in a bun for the mould and so it is very important to make sure your bun is in the perfect place otherwise it’s very painful! One night my bun was not centered and my hat stood off at an angle. I had to push it on to my head to make it fit and it was very uncomfortable. I never made that mistake again!

7:30 p.m.: Showtime! After finishing my hair, I’ll head to the dressing area for my first costume, which is the fish seller in the dock scene. We also grab our props from the props area and get ticked off by stage management that we are in our first place for the show.

9 p.m.: At the interval, there is no time to rest. During this time, I am preparing for Act II, which has different makeup. I paint on my “white face” that is inspired by Japanese kabuki performance. It is a white base with strong eyebrows and pink eye shadow and cheeks. This stays on for the ballet “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” which is a 15-minute long dance scene for the ensemble. After this, I have two scenes to remove my makeup and change it back to normal stage makeup for the final dance scene and the bows.

10:20 p.m.: We reach the end of the show. Once coming off the stage for bows, we get undressed and I take my makeup off. I’ll sign out, ride my bike home and make sure I get enough rest to do another seven shows during the week! 

Erin James in The King and I

Erin James in her crinoline for Act II. Photo courtesy of ‘The King and I.’

A day in the life of Erin James, female swing in The King and I

The role of the swing is very important in a musical. They learn each role of the ensemble and are ready to step in at any moment during a show.

Early Morning: I have recently discovered the joys of reformer Pilates classes thanks to the wonderful team at Studio Pilates in Brisbane. Three to four times a week, I attend a 50-minute class to strengthen my core and to keep on top of my game. I never know when I might be required to perform any of the 14 female roles I cover in The King and I, so I have to make sure I do my own physical maintenance.

Day: As the Editor in Chief of AussieTheatre.com, I spend most of my days editing articles, liaising with publicists, writers and performers, managing our social media platforms and generally championing theatre in Australia. It’s a love-job, absolutely, and it does take up a good deal of time but I wouldn’t continue to spend most of my days working tirelessly unless I felt it was benefiting the arts community. My co-director (and husband) Matt Edwards and I have been building the site into a company we are proud of since early 2011 and the amount of opportunities which have been afforded us and our writers over the years have been incredible. 

3:30 p.m.: I check my phone for messages from Stage Management to determine the day’s further activities. If any cast members are ill or injured, it is customary that they let our stage management team know at least three hours before the call time, to give understudies/swings the maximum opportunity to prepare for the show that evening. If I check my phone and am greeted with a message or voicemail from stage management (“Hi Erin, you’re on for … tonight”), my afternoon will likely be quite different to that of a normal show day.

6 p.m.: I generally walk into the theatre from our company accommodation in the CBD across the beautiful Victoria Bridge to the Southbank Precinct.

The QPAC building and Southbank is certainly a welcoming sight and every day I remind myself how lucky I am to be travelling the country, working in an industry I love! If I am performing as a swing for the night, I’ll walk into theatre – usually with my head running at a million miles per hour, running through the plot I am about to perform in double time. Once I arrive at the theatre, I will immediately commence hair and makeup preparation and aim to be finished by the hour call. If anyone has notes for me or if I need to run through any spacing for safety on stage at the hour call, I don’t feel rushed once the wheels are in motion!

6:30 p.m.: Hour call! At the hour call, our dance captain will take some time to run through any major onstage traffic issues and allow the company to walk through my spacing in the dance numbers. This is to ensure everyone is aware that I am performing a different plot and also to ensure I have had a chance to step through the motions to keep it fresh in my mind. It’s a safety procedure more than anything, and it’s a good place to ask questions about small details if I have any. 

Erin James walk to QPAC

Erin’s own image of her walk to work in the beautiful Southbank precinct.

7:20 p.m.: Microphone checks commence at the five-minute call, and I try to be up on stage level with enough time to run over my notes, check my props and do a sound check early. My mind is generally still running quite fast, but I’m usually quite excited to get onto the stage. One of the best things about swinging a show like this is the different perspectives you have when you perform different plots. Little things which you cannot see from one side of the stage might be in full view from another, and I always discover more about the work I am a part of every time I perform a new role. For me, creatively, it allows for a greater understanding of the piece. I love it! 

9 p.m.: 
Interval! It’s bound to be someone’s birthday with so many company members involved in a production of this size, and interval is the time we celebrate, usually with cake.

At this time on a night I am not performing as swing, I also put my hair into a wig preparation (pin curls and a stocking cap), dress in my stockings, bloomers and corset (yes, really) and as Act II commences, my dresser helps me into one of the largest costumes I have ever worn – the crinoline. Be thankful we don’t wear these enormous fashion statements anymore, ladies. It’s mighty uncomfortable, and constantly in everybody’s way! 

7:30-10:15 p.m. during a performance as a swing: To be honest, the show is usually quite a blur for me. It’s like a ride that you can’t get off! I go through my costume changes, scene changes, makeup changes alongside the rest of the cast and spend most of the three hours in absolute heaven! 

10:15 p.m.: After curtain calls, the cast will dress down and commence the walk home across the bridge and into the city. A cup of tea and a quick Skype chat with my husband Matt end my night and then its bedtime and setting my alarm for Pilates again! 

The King and I has finished it’s run in Brisbane and is now playing at Princess Theatre, Melbourne, before opening in Sydney at The Opera House from September 7. For tickets and information visit www.thekingandimusical.com.au.

Photo (top): The ensemble featuring in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” featuring the incredible headpieces and Japanese Kabuki inspired makeup. Photo by Brian Geach.

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