Angela Baumgardner plays British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens in the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s “The King and I,” coming to Clowes Memorial Hall, March 5 through 10. The Oklahoma native said the first time she was in one of the famous composers’ musicals was in grade school. “Every fourth grader in the state is in ‘Oklahoma.’” For the record, she played Narrator #5.
Baumgardner joins a company of 65 actors, musicians, cast and crew in this touring production, presented by Broadway in Indianapolis, based on the 2015 Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center production. One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest works, “The King and I” features a score that includes such beloved classics as “Getting to Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance?” and “Something Wonderful.” Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unorthodox and stormy relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna, whom the progressive king, in an authoritarian world, brings to Siam to teach his numerous wives and children.
Reaching out to Baumgardner by phone recently, I found her in Madison, Wisconsin, where the tour was on a one-week run prior to traveling to Indy for its eight-performance engagement.
When asked how it was she landed the show, Baumgardner, who said that until moving to New York City where she is now based, she lived in L.A., where she appeared in regional productions such as “Mary Poppins” (Winifred Banks), “Peter Pan” (Mrs. Darling), “Beauty and the Beast” (Mrs. Potts) and others. Once she arrived in NYC, she said that almost immediately, her agent received a request for her to audition. After nailing the audition and booking the show, she started rehearsals in NYC in October and began touring in November.
According to Baumgardner, who came across as pleasant and even bubbly, the reception to the musical has been more than positive. “The show has been immensely well-received,” she said. “We have had really great audience response, with a lot of people at the stage door saying things like, ‘I remember seeing ‘The King and I’ growing up, but I forgot what happened and how it ended’ or ‘I didn’t realize how relevant it is to today.’ A lot of people said they forget how funny it is too.”
“The King and I” premiered on Broadway in 1951 and is based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel titled “Anna and the King of Siam,” which was derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Regarding its relevancy, Baumgardner said, “Rogers and Hammerstein were very progressive for their time. It is a timeless classic. What’s resonating with audiences now is finding and understanding different cultures. Mrs. Anna comes to teach the children, but ends up learning so much and I hope that is something audiences take away, is learning from one another,” emphasized Baumgardner, who added, “The King and Anna are very different, from very different cultures, but come to an understanding and an appreciation for one another and work together to help move the country forward.”
Baumgardner said the musical also has a strong message about the empowerment of women. “In the story, there are three very strong women, Anna, Lady Thiang and Tuptim. They are each working their own way within the system to change it. They bring a new perspective to the system and a lot of change and it’s really neat how they end up working together as well,” she said.
Always interested in professional child actors, some of whom I have worked with during my career as an actor and theatre and TV producer-director, I asked Baumgardner about what it’s like working with the six children who play the King’s kids, to which she replied, “They are precious. They each have one guardian or parent who travels with them. And they have a tutor who travels as well. They work really hard. Besides doing eight shows a week, they do their schoolwork during the week as well. I always say, ‘Mrs. Anna has so much strength. She comes to Siam so strong, but her weakness is children.’ I feel the same way. They just melt my heart.”
Regarding the show’s production elements, Baumgardner said, “I wear Kelli O’Hara’s costumes as well as Marin Mazzie, who took over the role. I have some of her costumes and Laura Michelle Kelly, who did the first national tour. The show has the same costumes, sets, lighting, direction and choreography as the original production.”
Concluding our brief chat, I asked Baumgardner to sum up what Indy audience can expect when they come to see the show at Clowes Hall. Her enthusiastic response was “What people can expect is beautiful music, a sweeping score, stunning sets and costumes, and a really moving story that touches your heart. A lot of humor too. It is set in the 1860s, but has so many things that are relevant to today. It will definitely touch people and help them think in a whole new way.”
Tickets for “The King and I” are on sale now and available in person at the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787. The performance schedule will be Tuesday-Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.