Elena Shaddow had 12 days of rehearsal before she stepped into the shoes of Anna Leonowens.
It’s not an unheard-of feat on Broadway, and it’s a situation she’s been in before.
“I was sort of given a monumental task to assume this role,” she says. I feel very honored that (director) Bartlett Sher has this trust in me. I didn’t have a chance to work with him on it. He believed that I could take the role and do it justice.”
Shaddow is playing the lead female role in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The King and I.” It will begin its six-performance run at Popejoy Hall on Wednesday, June 20.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, the Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the king of Siam and Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the forward-thinking king brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.
The musical won four Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical in 2015.
The traveling production is directed by Sher and stars Shaddow as Leonowens and Jose Llana as the king of Siam.
Joan Almedilla will play Lady Thiang, with Brian Rivera as Kralahome, Q Lim as Tuptim, Kavin Panmeechao as Lun Tha, Charlie Oh as Prince Chulalongkorn, Rhyees Stump as Louis Leonowens and Baylen Thomas as Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsey.
The musical boasts a score that features such classics as “Getting To Know You,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance,” “I Have Dreamed” and “Something Wonderful.”
Sher is excited about the actors in the lead roles.
“Jose was so superb on Broadway in ‘The King and I’ that I begged him to join us on the tour, and l feel we are incredibly lucky to have him. He brings such joy and virility and strength to the king. And he is one of Broadway’s great talents,” Sher says.
He added about Shaddow, “I don’t think there is anyone in the American theater who possesses Elena’s rare combination of qualities: a soaring, pure voice, extraordinary acting skill, all held together by uncommon grace. She genuinely lights up the stage. And she is almost born to the part of Anna in “The King and I.” She has power, a strong will, and immense kindness. And she can break your heart onstage. She is all heart, and a perfect voice.”
Shaddow is enjoying her iconic character.
“There have been so many before me to play Anna,” she says. “I think this role is challenging for me in that respect. It feels like the right fit. Anna is a very strong woman and sort of fearless in the face of her own fear. She’s extremely brave. I look up to her. Every day that I get to go on stage and play Anna is a gift.”
As Shaddow has navigated her way through the theater world, she’s played a vast array of characters.
Now in her mid-30s, Shaddow is looking forward to playing different types of characters.
“I’ve played the naive ingenue,” she says. “Anna’s a perfect role, because she’s not matronly and yet, not technically a leading lady. I’m in this place in my career where I can go between a number of age ranges. I’ve been doing this since I was 8, and each night I go on stage, it makes me feel the same love I had for theater back when I started. You have to remain committed to every scene and line. I hope in a way, I’m able to inspire other actors.”