Getting to know you
Veteran actress reflects on life on the road ahead of The King and I's Austin run
Laura Michelle Kelly won’t be home for Christmas this year. But not to worry — she’ll still be with family. Kelly and the cast of The King and I will spend the holidays in Texas, including an Austin stop (December 12-17) and a Dallas run (December 19-31). “We’re like one big family, and I miss them when I’m away from them,” she says of her castmates.
After more than 15 years of performing on stage (with credits that include originating the role of Mary Poppins in the musical of the same name), she decided she wanted to pack her bags and experience life on the road. When the chance to play Anna in The King and I came up, she knew the time was right.
Now that she's spent almost a year on tour, the self-proclaimed "seasoned traveler" has created many great memories. "I’ve loved the adventure of trying a different city every week ... it’s been a big learning curve, fun, and just a great opportunity to grow."
Kelly says she was drawn to the production because of the director, the production team, and the timeless tale. "It’s a really good story," she says. "Like Shakespeare, people want to experience it over and over again."
Set in the 1860s, The King and I, which is based on a true story, explores the relationship between a British widow named Anna and the King of Siam, who brings Anna on board to tutor his many children and wives, as western influences threaten his kingdom. "The king is a powerful titan and Anna’s a goddess in her own world and it’s hard for him to accept," explains Kelly.
As the story develops, the two develop an unspoken admiration for one another. "It’s not something they could ever tell one another — it would be highly inappropriate. So it’s very sad in that way," she says.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I first opened on Broadway in 1951, and it has been reinvented in many revivals over the years. Kelly has experience both in helping develop characters in new productions (Mary Poppins, and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in the world premiere of Finding Neverland) and in playing long-established rolls such as Anna.
"It’s already an award-winning production and I get to come in and play within the boundaries already set, which I love," explains Kelly. "I would tell anyone who’s not seen it that if they want to create a memory that will last a lifetime, bring people you love and you’ll leave singing and with a new perspective on a different culture."
So even though Kelly won’t be home with her family in New Orleans during the holidays, she’s excited to be ringing in the New Year with her castmates and some good friends in Dallas. For this veteran performer, 2017 has been a year of firsts. She admits being on the road can be daunting, but well worth it to be able to share such a beautiful story and mesmerizing production with a new city each week.
"We love what we do," she says. "There are tough days when you’re away from family and you’re not sleeping in your own bed, but that’s part of the adventure and it helps us learn to get back to what we love."
Tickets for the Austin run of The King and I start at $30 and are available through Texas Performing Arts.