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Laura Michelle Kelly

Laura Michelle Kelly

Docked for only a few brief weeks, the opulent and regal revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I’s national tour descended on the Windy City just over a year since the Lyric Opera mounted the same material. Forgive the slight, but this version is simply superior in every way. The tour brought to life Bart Sher’s 2015 Lincoln Center Tony Award-winning Best Revival of a Musical. The sweeping and epic score expertly sung by this talented and diverse cast, adorned in Catherine Zuber’s opulent, Tony Award-winning costumes and Tom Watson’s winning wig and hair design, and staged against Michael Yeargan’s dynamic and ubiquitous set pieces, this King is a royal treat for all. Clocking in at just under three hours, the story’s pace thankfully never dragged. Originally staged in 1951 and mounted on Broadway four more times, Sher’s version featured a feisty feminist heroine, existing decades before bras were being burned for equality. Bold and breathtaking from start to finish, with formidable talent both behind the scenes as well as on stage. “Getting to Know” this enchanting production is certainly a summertime must.

Joan Almedilla

Joan Almedilla

Loosely based on a true story, The King and I, spun a tale of cross-cultural romance against political intrigue. The King of Siam (Jose Llana) portrayed as a complex leader, more than just a mere majesty. While the western world thought him a dictator at best, savage at worst, here he is gentile and domineering. His most chauvinistic and overbearing  moments quickly descended into intentionally inspired audience laughter. Brought to Siam to educate his brood of children, proper British school teacher, Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) proved a combination of beauty and head-strong intelligence. Her apprehensive nature displayed early on during “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” sung here to inspire self-confidence instead of simple pep. I dare anyone to not be charmed during the “The March of the Siamese Children” as the King’s progeny, with respective mothers  in tow, all are introduced to the well-traveled educator. Each child allowed to let their character’s unique personality shine beyond their jaw-dropping, dazzlingly costuming. Each mother color coordinated with child, in descending order of royal significance. Kelly’s “Getting to Know You” is a charismatic and giggle inducing  act one highlight. Sharing educational tips with the litany of his wives as well as their children, Anna is understandably hastily embraced by all.  Quickly breaking the ice with the most formidable, Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla), the King’s number one bride, Anna learned as much from the troupe as she taught. A starling lesson, Tuptim (Manna Nichols) a “gift” from a neighboring leader. Stunned at the thought of “gifting” a person into a life of sexual servitude, Anna shared her books and her knowledge with the young woman as, going so far as to help her to secretly date her one true love behind he King’s back. The confidential clandestine operation continued in secret, behind the palace’s ever watchful eye.

Manna Nichols

Manna Nichols

As the story continued, Anna proved herself a valuable ally, partner and cultural confidant to the King. While preparing a reception for visiting British dignitaries, the real fireworks between Anna and the King ignited. As he placed his hand around her delicate waist, “Shall We Dance” proved persuasive foreplay to their burgeoning desires. Christopher Gattelli’s gallant choreography added an almost fairy tale quality to the impressive number. Beautifully sung and lavishly structured, while cultural differences merged, the ultimate test of allegiance between this unlikely couple fell squarely upon their competing relationship with Tuptim. Captured while trying to flee the palace with her paramour, romance turned to vengeance in the alarming scene. Anna defied all conventions to protect her young friend from the lashings, both literal and metaphorical, by the King. The political undertones of the complex story fully fleshed out without pounding anyone over the head with sanctimoniousness. The sweeping and epic conclusion both stunning and satisfying.

Laura Michelle Kelly, Jose Llana

Laura Michelle Kelly, Jose Llana

In a crowded summertime theatrical season, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is a must see production. Luxuriously produced, captivatingly staged, unapologetically political  and magnificently sung, this tour is certainly in tip-top shape. The familiar soundtrack continually took on new meaning in Sher’s renewed approach to the classic tale. This daring and darling production thoroughly captivated and entertained. Get to know Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I one more time, while you still can.

The King and I

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is now playing at the Oriental Theatre through July 2, 2017

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.


The Olivier Awards Return



Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.

Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.

The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.

The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.

The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.

And the nominees are:

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Out of Town

The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview




Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNATwo People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova.

Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.

During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.

Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?

Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic.  The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.

What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?

For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process.  Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.

The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.

Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?

We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play.  We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.

Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!

Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…

We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months.  There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft.  Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.

What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?

For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art.  Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.

For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years.  The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.

The most rewarding?

Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine.  Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.

What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?

We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto.  We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine.  And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.

First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit

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Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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