Backstage on Broadway: Tony nominees Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe star in musical revival of iconic ‘The King and I’

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PIX11 sat down with the stars of “The King and I”. Both Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe were both nominated last for their roles in this latest musical revival.

He slayed his enemies in "The Last Samurai."

He soldiered for his country during WWII in "Letters from Iwo Jima."

And he saved the world from monsters in "Godzilla."

Now Ken Watanabe is set to rule a nation, this time on a Broadway stage.

“Film-making is allowed to mistake [sic],” Watanabe said. "But on the theater, no mistake, it’s so scary.”

He stars alongside seasoned stage actress Kelli O'Hara in the musical revival of The King and I.

“I’m sorry, I am king!" Watanabe laughed. "Yeah we have a little bit of like who’s in charge kind of a thing,” Kelli O'Hara quipped.

The tumultuous relationship, based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, follows a British schoolteacher hired in the mid 1800s by the King of Siam as he tried to modernize his country.

“At a time when it was unheard of, she [Anna Leonowens] absolutely was a woman who spoke her mind,” O'Hara explained. “And they [Anna and the King] became respectful and a team, there was mutual admiration, I think it’s a beautiful story to tell in any century.”

Two people from different worlds...a theme these actors know a little about.

“There is a cultural divide," O'Hara said. "He lives in a Japan, I grew up in Oklahoma on a farm," she laughed.

It's been a tough transition for Watanabe, he's still learning to speak the language.

“It’s really hard, tough process to learn about singing in the English,” Watanabe explained. "But the King doesn't speak perfect English so it was works for the part. I guess it's a small experience, I mean excuse," he laughed.

Part of what makes this show so iconic is the music, which was written and composed by the legendary team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

"One of the greatest beginners of this art form, they really brought it to the table," O'Hara said. “Adam Guettel, who’s Richard Rodgers’ grandson, said to me on opening night, 'don’t you just wish there was a high note'” she laughed.

At the end of the night, these two hope the audience takes away a deeper message from the story.

“I do hope they’re getting something about the human ability to collaborate,” O'Hara explained.  "And to be strong and hold to values but to also open your mind to others.”

And as for how Ken Watanabe feels about doing another Broadway show?

"Uhhhh," he laughed and shook his head.

Watanabe did go on to say it may be tough just because he was so spoiled during this show with such a great cast, crew and the Lincoln Center platform.

The King and I is currently playing at the Lincoln Center Theater and has no scheduled closing date.

RELATED: 2015 Tony nominations announced


Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi and Rebecca Millman

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