Shall We Chat? Rachel York on Playing Anna in The King and I at Walnut Street Theatre

Rachel York as Anna in 'The King and I' At Walnut Street Theatre. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I went up to Philadelphia to see the multi-talented Rachel York perform the role of Anna in The King and I at Walnut Street Theatre and as usual – Rachel York acted and sang the role so beautifully. I had a chance to ask Rachel about playing Anna and her royal visit to Walnut Street Theatre.

Joel: Why did you want to play Anna in The King and I at Walnut Street Theatre?

Rachel: Anna is a role I have been wanting to play for many years. The King and I is one of my favorite musicals and Anna’s journey is so unique and beautiful in my opinion. I was very excited to perform at the Walnut Street Theatre because I was told their production values are bar none.

I would think it’s hard to perform the role of Anna when audiences have Deborah Kerr and Gertrude Lawrence and Donna Murphy in their heads before they walk into Walnut Street Theater. How did you make the role your own? What do you bring to your performance of Anna that is uniquely Rachel York-ish?

'Rachel York as Anna getting to know the royal children. Photo by Mark Gravin.

I try to be truthful and perform organically in every moment on stage. Anna is multi-dimensional. She is brave, adventurous and strong, yet soft and gentle. She is a lady who is not afraid to speak her mind and defend the innocent. She is a thoughtful, kind woman of integrity, empathy and understanding. These are all qualities I personally strive towards as well. She is also a mother like me.

What was Director Marc Robin’s vision of Anna for this production, and what was the best advice he gave you in rehearsals about playing her?

Marc wanted me to play the role as truthfully as possible and wanted me to avoid any musical theatre clichés. I found Marc’s blocking and direction to be very thoughtful and helpful because he also believes in basing his work in truth. He is very detail oriented and he endeavored to put as much passion, love and meaning into every moment on stage as possible.

You have great songs to sing in the show – “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and “Getting to Know You,” but the song that’s not as well-known is “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” Tell us about the song – what’s happening in the story – and what do we learn about Anna when she sings it? What are you thinking about when you sing it.

In the song, “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You”, Anna is infuriated with the King for having the audacity to call her his servant. She marches into her bedroom and proceeds do exactly what the title of the song implies and gives the King ‘a piece of her mind.’  I am thinking precisely what Anna is ranting about in the song, but my emotions are fueled by past experiences in my own life.

You get to sing “Shall We Dance” with your king – Mel Sagrado Maghuyop. How would you describe Mel’s performance as the King?

Anna (Rachel York) and The King (Mel Sagrado Maghuyop) in "Shall We Dance." Photo by Mark Garvin.

I think Mel is a very gifted actor. I have been told we have great chemistry on stage. We both act and react off of each other as honestly as we can. He is a very truthful actor, which makes my job easier and more enjoyable. He also acts with great passion and emotion so he is a very giving actor as well.

There are a lot of kids to work with in The King and I. Some actors refuse to work with kids. Are you enjoying working with them, and what have been some of the nicest moments you’ve had with them? Have you worked with these many young actors before?

I worked briefly with Austin Ku and Manna Nichols in two different projects. They are both incredibly talented. Working with the kids is a joy and gives me something to look forward to every night, especially when it’s so difficult to say goodbye to my own daughter at home when I have to come to work. They give me energy.

You did Kiss Me Kate in London with Brett Barrett, and it was filmed for PBS. How long did you perform the show in London, and have you worked with Brett since London? Were London audiences similar or different than American audiences?

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Rachel York and Brent Barrett star in 'Kiss Me, Kate' on PBS. Photo by Alistair Muir/Joan Marcus

I performed as Kate in Kiss Me Kate with Brett in London for almost 3 months, but starred in the National Tour for a year before that. That was the last time I performed with Brett in a show, although I think we may have done a concert or two together after that. We are actually developing a concert together now called, Isn’t It Romantic? and we will be performing it next year at several different venues in the country. My website informs people what projects and concert dates I have coming up.

You have a cabaret called “For the Love of it” (which you recorded). Tell us about it and the songs you selected for it and why you selected those songs. Where are you performing it next?

My cabaret, For The Love Of It, is composed of a variety of my favorite love songs ranging from standard jazz to pop to blues to musical theater. I talk about my greatest vocal inspirations growing up and do impressions of Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Marilyn Monroe and others. I also tell some stories about my experiences with Julie Andrews. I will be performing my act next in Lake Dillon, Colorado the end of January.

Have you performed in DC, and do you have any plans in the future to perform in the DC area?

The last show I did in D.C. was the National Tour of Camelot.  Before that I did the National Tour of Kiss Me Kate at the Kennedy Center.

What’s next after The King and I?

After this, my daughter, husband and I are moving back to NYC. I have several concert booking in the New Year already in Detroit and Los Angeles. I hope to be back on Broadway before too long. In the meantime, I look forward to spending some quality time with my husband and our 10 month old daughter. I have been working non-stop since she was 6 months old.

How have you enjoyed working at Walnut Street Theatre?

I am very happy to be performing once again in Philly, and it’s been an absolute pleasure working at Walnut Street Theater with such a talented cast. I have been told by several audience members that this is their favorite production thus far at the Walnut Street Theater as well as the best production of the King And I that they have seen. It’s much easier and fulfilling to come to work when I know the audience is seeing something truly special.

The King and I plays through January 8, 2012, at Walnut Street Theatre – 825 Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office (215) 574-3550, or purchase them online.


Watch a ‘Behind the Scenes’ video of The King and I props and scenery, at the WST Scene Shop.

Watch a video following the Royal Children of Saim as they prepare for their TV appearance at the 6ABC Dunkin Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade 2011. Hear what they have to say about the holiday season as they share some of their favorite things with all of you!

Watch an interview with Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, who is playing the King in The King and I.

Watch and listen to Rachel York sing “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate.

Watch and listen to Rachel York sing “I Hate Men” from Kiss Me Kate.

Watch highlights of Rachel York’s performance in Victor-Victoria.