Jason Scott Lee on stage in The King and I

Opera Australia and John Frost’s lavish, multi-million dollar production of The King and I premieres in Melbourne tonight and we took some time to chat with star Jason Scott Lee about performing this incredible Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

Jason Scott Lee as the King of Siam. Image by Oliver Toth

Lee, who shot to fame following his portrayal of Bruce Lee in the film Dragon the Bruce Lee Story, is humble, focussed and in control; every inch a king and an obvious leader. Landing on Australian soil less than two weeks ago, he began intensive rehearsals for this gargantuan role with the Australian King and I company early last week, taking over from Teddy Tahu Rhodes who performed the role in Brisbane last month.

“I have [had] a considerably short rehearsal period for such a big show, but I think the rest of the cast – since they have been performing it in Brisbane –  they are seasoned veterans by now, so I’m walking in as the new guy”, he laughed.

Having performed the role fourteen years ago at the London Palladium opposite Elaine Paige, Lee acknowledges that although he was the ‘new guy’, he wasn’t walking into the production cold. This revival production of John Frost’s Tony Award winning blockbuster boasts the same set and costume designs (from Brian Thomson and Roger Kirk) as the London Palladium production and walking into the bejewelled, Swarovski encrusted palace of Siam on Melbourne’s Princess Theatre stage is like coming home.

“I have a little bit of muscle memory of the show… I actually thought they had brought the set out of storage, but they told me that it was all newly fashioned. Brand new! More or less the same design, but that design is really layered and beautiful and has a lot of complexities to it. I actually got the chance to catch the show in Brisbane and it looked fabulous. Everything just kinda glitters and glows”, he said.

[pull_left]Live theatre is more of an actors medium because there are no double takes, there’s no second chance once you’ve stepped out[/pull_left]Lee’s first time in Melbourne is set to be a family affair, with his wife, daughter, mother and aunt all in town for the opening night at the Princess Theatre. With only one day off per week in an eight show weekly cycle, rest, relaxation and family time will be important to this international star.

“I think i’m show focused at the moment. I know it’s quite demanding to do eight shows a week, and usually the time off is just really to centre yourself and rest the voice, rest the body so you can carry on. Maybe get some exercise to get rid of the excess tension, you know. I do some stretching, do some meditation. I work with Chinese herbs a lot – they help to build stamina for doing a lot of stage work”, he said.

An established performer on both stage and screen, Lee feels the two are completely different art forms, and is glad to be returning to the live theatre scene once more.

The King and I - Lisa McCune and Jason Scott Lee. Image by Oliver Toth
The King and I – Shall We Dance? Lisa McCune and Jason Scott Lee. Image by Oliver Toth

“Live theatre is more of an actors medium because there are no double takes, there’s no second chance once you’ve stepped out. And in a way, there are pluses and minuses to both”, he said.

“Working on film, the downtime waiting around sucks. But with stage, you jump into the theatre, you get your voice on, you get your frock on and you’re on! And then you go home and it’s nice. I would say stage is more a disciplinary medium and film is more kinda like a coffee shop kinda thing. You have a hot topic that you really go after and then you kinda relax!”

The King and I, starring Lisa McCune and Jason Scott Lee is currently playing at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. 

Visit thekingandimusical.com.au for tickets and details

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *