Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

Chamberlain the man who would be 'King'

Hear Richard Chamberlain talk about theater, film and children actors

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Richard Chamberlain and Jan Maxwell star in "The King and I," beginning tonight at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

spacer spacer

Jordan Segundo and Kristian Lei are Lun Tha and Tuptim, who share forbidden love in "The King and I."

spacer spacer


A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, produced by Hawaii Opera Theatre

Premieres at 8 p.m. today; repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday and again at 8 p.m. July 28, 2 p.m. July 29 and 4 p.m. July 30

Blaisdell Concert Hall

$20-$75 for regular performances; Saturday is military/group night (sold out); children's matinee is July 29 ($10 for kids 12 and younger, $25 for adult companions)

596-7858, www.hawaiiopera.org

spacer spacer

Richard Chamberlain, the king of 1980s television miniseries, sits in his dressing room backstage at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, reflecting on another king who is fueling his multipronged show-biz career.

At 72, the slender, sandy-haired, 6-foot-1 Chamberlain star of "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds," frequent stage headliner and TV series guest star, and author who confronted his demons by coming out about his sexual orientation is still logging firsts.

He makes his Island stage debut tonight as the king of Siam in the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The King and I," produced by Hawaii Opera Theatre. It's his first brush with the role, though he's headlined tours of "The Sound of Music" (Capt. Von Trapp) and "My Fair Lady" (Prof. Henry Higgins) in the past.

"Yes, I'm very excited," Chamberlain said in a soft, gentle voice. He's feeling a bit regal a week before opening, though plagued with an ear infection.

"It's so wonderful to work at home ... though people are always surprised that I can sing. In this one, I only have one song, and it's an acting song, not a singer's song, and I'm quite happy with that. I've never been terribly secure as a singer."

But Chamberlain had a Top 10 hit, "Theme from 'Dr. Kildare' (Three Stars Will Shine Tonight)," in 1962. With a recording chapter in his past, Chamberlain said he still gets a jolt of "energy from the orchestra" whenever he takes part in a theatrical musical.

"I love 'The King and I,' " he said. "It's such a wonderful love story that's not quite consummated. The music is so beautiful and the young lovers (referring to the subplot that involves Tuptim and Lun Tha) make this a terrific story."


He is very much aware that he was not the first choice to be the king.

"I was the last choice," he said, smiling. "They wanted an Asian actor so badly, partly because this is Honolulu and the king is an Asian guy, and while they had Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, he was signed to another movie and couldn't do it.

"There were other wonderful people (like Jason Scott Lee, who played the part in London), but they were too busy. And it was rather late by then to get into casting, so they pulled me from the bottom drawer. But I don't mind; I love doing this and I love the guy."

Through the miracles of makeup his eyes are lined and almond-shaped to hint at the character's heritage Chamberlain passes muster in his brocaded costume, curly-toed shoes (size 10 1/2), and a faux emerald ring on a finger.

He sees the king "as a spoiled brat in the beginning. He had an interesting history; he was a monk for some time and his brother usurped the throne till he was fortysomething, so he didn't start (being kingly) till late.

"He's torn apart, really, with one-and-a-half feet in ancient time, which means he has to be absolutely kinglike, absolutely godlike; and he has half a foot in modern times. He doesn't really understand what this entails, especially on a personal, emotional basis.

"Anna, of course, really gets to him, from the beginning. I think he's curiously attracted to her and the love grows. He falls for her. But he has 300 wives," Chamberlain said, laughing wildly, "and that's not going to work out."


Anna Leonowens, the British school teacher who teaches the king's children and ultimately erases the beast that lives in his soul, is portrayed by Jan Maxwell, a Tony-nominated actress who previously worked with Chamberlain.

"She played the baroness when I was the captain in 'The Sound of Music,' " Chamberlain said. "She was brilliant, just brilliant, and we also worked together in Stockbridge (Mass.) in a play called 'Shadow of Greatness,' and she was brilliant in that, too."

Generous with praise, he said of Maxwell: "She has such an honesty, she can't put a dishonest foot forward. On the other hand, she can go over the top and I benefit from her honesty. We know and trust each other, so it's a real treat for me."

It's also been a joy working with the ensemble of youngsters. "The kids are going to steal the show," Chamberlain said. "It can't be otherwise. ... These kids are so adorable. There are some little bitty ones, who are really good absolutely follow orders, very content, they play together. I don't care they can steal the show."


Chamberlain made headlines when his confessional memoir, "Shattered Love," was published in 2003. "The book hasn't been about being gay," he said. "That was a side issue; the book really was about love. Big-time love. But the gay part got the attention, and, idiotically, became an issue."

He said the hubbub was largely a domestic thing. "Not in Europe who cares? In America, (there's) a deep, deep, deep trough of prejudice and outright dislike, and I had absorbed that as a child. I was terrified of being outed, but things loosened up, and as I was writing the book, I recalled a conversation whether or not I would talk about being gay ... because I knew that would get all the attention.

"There was a moment, sitting in this little room in this house we had in Ma'ili, and it was as if an angel or something, you know, put his or her hand on my head and said, 'Enough of this, enough of this ...,' my own fear.

"It was the most benign issue that ever happened. You tell me you're straight, and what does that tell me about you? I tell you I'm gay, it tells you almost nothing; it's rather an uninteresting fact, really, and who cares?"

Completing the book, Chamberlain said, brought him "a sudden release of my own self-dislike and fear of the subject. So I was selling this book on national television ... totally free, totally fearless. It was like a miracle."

After the book's publication, he'd be at the airport and, he said, "people would tell me, 'Good for you,' and just walk off. It was amazing."


Chamberlain, who lives on Maui, is committed to his Island life for several reasons.

"First, it's not Los Angeles, where I grew up, so I'm at liberty to say that. Second, it is so beautiful. Third, it's non-showbizzy. And fourthly, the people most of them are so nice. We lived in Wai'anae for a long time. By chance, we found a house by the sea. It (the area) had a terrible reputation, so the tourists never went out there, so it was great."

Sounding like the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, Chamberlain further waxed eloquent about the Islands: "The people are sweet, the air is sweet, the trees and the blossoms are sweet. It's a beautiful place to live and I'm heartbroken this is being covered over by high-rises and freeways and developments.

"You know, in five years, you're not going to be able to see the ocean, even from the mountain. I lived on Makiki Heights; you cannot see the ocean (because) here's this huge wall of high-rises. Pretty soon, only the rich people who occasionally come here and populate these condos will see the ocean. The rest of us might as well be in Chicago. I cannot understand (he gasps) why we allow this to happen."


In 1989, Chamberlain starred in "Island Son," a Hawai'i-based TV series on CBS.

Asked what sentiments he has about the show, he sighed and paused for about half a minute.

"I foolishly (in retrospect) said I'd be this doctor; I was supposed to be a hanai member of an old Hawaiian family and my hanai father was a huge kahuna. They noticed I had talent in that direction (medicine) and they noticed (Hawai'i) was getting more modern; the community gathered together and sent me to Stanford Medical School, so I could come back to the Islands and have one foot in the ancient and one foot in the modern. We thought this was such an idea; we wanted it to be about the Hawai'i we were so fascinated with.

"And the people back in Hollywood said, 'Hawaiian? What culture?' and they wanted 'Dr. Kildare Goes Hawaiian.' I gave ground in the early stages; my agent said you gotta do it, and like an idiot, I did."


For Jordan Segundo, Hawai'i's indelible "American Idol," "The King and I" marks a new chapter in his career.

Q. What are your feelings about your first stage role?

A. It's been intimidating. But I wanted to take that challenge — vocally, emotionally, physically. I'm working hard to be perfect. Right now I'm very nervous. Nancy (Bernal), my manager, told me all these people are buying tickets ... but I don't want to know who is coming.

While it's slowly coming together, by opening night, I hope I can be part of a good show.

Q. What's especially exciting?

A. I get to kiss Kristian (Lei, who portrays Tuptim).

Q. Might you do more stage shows later?

A. I've wanted to do a show (like this), but I never had the opportunity. For a lot of other kids from Hawai'i, Broadway shows have been a big part of that drive. I have that passion; this show is opening up my eyes.

Q. How does this compare with "American Idol"?

A. With "American Idol," the pressure was that you just had one shot to prove your point; if you screw up, it's over. For this, it's different; you work weeks preparing for the show. It's not a competition; (you are) getting out there performing your best and just having fun with it. I am learning a lot on the way.


Jan Maxwell, a Tony Award nominee for "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" last season on Broadway, is renewing ties with Richard Chamberlain when she portrays Anna to his king. It's her first go with the schoolteacher role.

Q. You've worked together, right?

A. It's a comfort zone, especially with someone like Richard. He was Von Trapp and I was the baroness in "The Sound of Music." We remain great friends.

Q. How do you see Anna?

A. I like Anna's sense of fairness, her sense of justice, her love to be with people who need her. Her need to give is big.

Q. There were kids in your last Broadway show and kids galore in "King." Your feelings?

A. I earlier did children's theater in New York; and there were kids in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Kids are honest; they make a company put its best foot forward.

Q. What's next for you on Broadway?

A. I'm doing "Losing Louie" (a new play by Simon Mendes da Costa) starting in September at the Biltmore Theatre. But not before a brief vacation on Maui, at the home of Richard Chamberlain and Martin Rabbett.

Q. Isn't a six-performance run of "King" brief for you?

A. That's what show biz is about, good or bad experiences. If you enjoy your work, you're sad to see the show close; if you hate it, you're glad when it ends. I'll be sad when this is over.


Kristian Lei, originally from Wai'anae, has played Kim in "Miss Saigon" in Stuttgart,

Germany, and did the lead in "Once on This Island" in the Philippines.

She's singing the role of Tuptim in "The King and I" in her first Honolulu theatrical role.

Q. Why this, why now?

A. I was taking some voice coaching from Auntie Neva (voice coach Neva Rego) and she urged me to audition.

Q. So how goes it?

A. (Tuptim's) such a strong character — and very passionate about Lun Tha (Jordan Segundo's character) — and she's kind of the conflict in the show, who brings the King down; she's the reason he feels humiliated.

Q. What's on (your) horizon?

A. I have a lot on my plate — I'm producing, directing and singing in my second "Broadway Mixed Plate: Fresh Off the Boat," which will be at Hawai'i Theatre (at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25)." (She's tapped Segundo and other peers whose credits include "The Lion King" and "Cats.")

Q. (Your) take on "King" stars Richard Chamberlain and Jan Maxwell?

A. We are having a lot of fun — but so are they. They're just wonderful Broadway stars, making us very comfortable. They even laugh harder than we do.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.