Sunday, September 7, 2014

The King and I Musical: Interview with cast Jenny Liu | Sydney Opera House

When I heard The King and I was coming to Sydney I had the chills. With a brilliant cast, vibrant costumes, the best performance stage you can get – the Sydney Opera House, Rogers and Hammerstein’s music, provoking themes and a captivating story, I just knew this musical is going to be one of those performances that will soar. Don’t wait for my review just go and get tickets and see it!

I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of the cast members and soprano, Jenny Liu for a brief interview. Jenny Liu plays Tuptim in The King and I.

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But firstly a bit about the story…

Did you know The King and I is based on a true story? The musical itself is based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam which in turn was based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Siam was the old name for what is known as Thailand today. The musical plot centres around the foreign journey and experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King’s drive to modernise his country. The relationship between Anna and The King is marked by conflict, as well as by a love that neither can admit nor have. The story explore themes of equality (a theme that also came through in a song 'You've Got to Be Carefully Taught' in another Rogers and Hammerstein musical) and the portrayal of a king as a forward thinking individual who is seeking to modernising his family, and his people so that they can be recognised in the world, but struggles with how he could join the company of the western world without losing the rich history and culture of his beloved Siam, without alienating his people who were not prepared to give up their simple but treasured way of life - a theme that probably is still relevant in some parts of the world today.

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About Soprano Jenny Liu

Jenny Liu plays the character Tuptim in The King and I. Tuptim is a lovely slave girl and a ‘gift’ to the King, to be one of his many wives, from the King of Burma. Without giving too much away, Tuptim’s character becomes significant in the story as her fate in the story is the issue over which Anna and the King finally find themselves in a confrontation over which neither is prepared to back down.

An emerging award winning bright young talent on the Australian stages, Soprano Jenny Liu has completed a Bachelor of Music Performance at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and is currently completing an Advanced Diploma of Opera, studying under Maree Ryan, Chair of the
Vocal Studies and Opera Unit. In each year from 2008-2011, Jenny has been awarded the highly prestigious Helen Myer Merit Scholarship. Jenny has been a finalist in the Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Scholarship in 2007 and 2009, winning the Marja Baudish award in 2009. In 2012, she was a semi finalist in the Australian Singing Competition and won the Ingrid Davidson Award and The Radzyminski Family Prize. She is a finalist in the Australian Opera Foundation German Scholarship. Jenny has sung the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, and has performed Carolina in Il Matrimonio Segreto, Diane in Orpheus in the Underworld, and Serpina in La Serva Padrona. Jenny has also had the pleasure of performing as the soprano soloist oratorios including Carmina Burana under the baton of Richard Gill, Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, as well as the world premieres of Matthew Orlovich’s Communion of Reparations, and the role of Sylvia Plath in Telling the Truth. An impressive track record for someone so young!

I caught up with Jenny Liu to talk about her musical career, inspirations and aspirations in music.

#1 How did your love of music begin?

Music has always been a part of my life – my grandparents bought me a piano when I was four years old so that’s when my music education began. I was always singing and dancing as a kid and not much has changed! I love that music is something that all people can relate to - it transcends time and culture and can affect you so strongly. And at the end of the day, when I sing I get a big smile from the inside and I know I’m doing something that makes me truly happy.

#2 The King and I first premiered in Broadway in the 1950s. What is it about The King and I that makes people continue to relate to it even to this day?

I think that not only is it a beautifully written show, but also that the story is something most people can relate to, regardless of their age. The central plot of Anna and the King learning from each other, even if reluctantly to begin with, is the kind of tolerance and acceptance of change that everyone deals with in their lives. Then there’s the heartbreaking story of Lady Thiang who knows her husband loves Anna but remains completely devoted to him. And of course the younger audience members all hope for a happy ending for the young lovers! Add into that mix some hilarious dialogue and breathtaking choreography and it’s no surprise this show is still so popular!

#3 Which is your favourite musical and why?

I do have a soft spot for West Side Story. Romeo and Juliet with beautiful music? Yes please.

#4 What have you learnt from the tour so far?

I’m very privileged to be able to tour with people like Lisa McCune, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Shu-Cheen Yu and Lou Diamond Phillips because they have such a wealth of experience and knowledge and I’ve learnt a great deal just from observing their performances. Things such as stagecraft and character development that you don’t get a chance to really learn until you’re performing, not to mention how to pace the eight show weeks.

#5 I heard your performance in The King and I was the first time your grandparents heard you sing. How did they react when they heard you for the first time?

They haven’t seen it yet. The first time they will hear me sing will be in the Sydney Opera House! Needless to say it’s very exciting – not a bad place for a first performance!

#6 Where do you hope to see your next role?

I would love to sing the lead role in Massenet’s opera, Manon some day. That would be my dream role.

An acclaimed production that is rich in story, themes, talent, costumes and culture, The King and I offers a refreshing and more sophisticated alternative to the standard panoply of special effects that dominate most shows and cinemas today. The King and I is guaranteed to be a visual tapestry to stimulate your senses. Go and see it!

Tickets are available from

Photos from Red Carpet opening night for The King and I Musical on 11 September 2014 at the Sydney Opera House


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