Interview with The King and I's Darren Lee

Posted on 18 April 2023

The King and I is setting sail for the West End. Inspired by real-life experiences, this story of East meets West unfolds through the eyes of Anna, an independent and fierce British widow who is tasked with introducing the royal family of Siam to Western customs. However, she finds herself torn between her own beliefs and the deeply ingrained traditions of the king's society.

It is a musical that defined an era. In this interview, we catch up with Darren Lee, who portrays the King, to hear all about this epic musical classic. 

We asked Darren how he is enjoying playing the role: “I'm absolutely loving it,” he tells us. “Growing up as an Asian or Asian American theatre performer, you are aware of this show and the role of the king. I always hoped that one day there might be a production of it. It's a wonderful opportunity, and I'm thrilled at the chance to inhabit this role.”

The role of the King is complex and multi-faceted, as Darren agrees: “It’s a thrilling character to play. He is a very conflicted man. He only knows the traditions of his country and that he was born to rule. He is aware that the world around him is changing, and it's challenging for him because he must deal with holding on to tradition. If he stays the way he is, his country has no chance of surviving. He brings Anna in to teach his children English and Western ways. He is attempting to adapt and be in the changing world. However, it is difficult for him because he has made the laws in his country. I think he must face his own extinction to be able to have his country progress.”

There are many captivating characters in The King and I. We asked Darren if he had the opportunity to play another character in the show, who he’d choose: “I think Lady Chiang is phenomenal. There's so much that happens in the stillness, and then when she speaks, it's profound. I really look to my queen as someone who is there for me. The journey, relationship, and chemistry that the two of us have together are important. Her dedication and commitment to the King in the song ‘Something Wonderful’ shows that she's able to express and articulate something that is very difficult.”

The King and I is known for its intricate production, blending classical Thai and Western elements. Darren weighs in on what he thinks of it: “The design of the show is just breathtaking. I originally saw it on Broadway and then was able to be part of the US National tour, which was slightly scaled down, but they attempted to keep what was magical about the show. At the same time, it's sort of expansive." 

The Tony Award-winning costume design of The King and I is a sight to behold, as Darren says: “Katherine Jeer is just exquisite, and her work is so detailed and beautiful. I marvel at the costumes I put on every evening. Her work is very story-driven. Even though we change costumes throughout the show, you're able to track the same characters through either silhouette or colour. It's super helpful for storytelling. The lighting is also gorgeous, and the choreography is just beautiful, oh, and the direction is stunning.”

We now move on to Darren’s favourite musical moments. He tells us, “As a performer, I love to do ‘A Puzzlement.’ It's about someone who is conflicted. There are a lot of words and fast rhythms, so it's very exciting and challenging for a performer. As an audience member, I think my favourite song is probably ‘Shall We Dance?’”

He continues, “You're able to take this relationship that you've been tracking for the first act and see a culmination of connection and compromise between two opposing powers - ‘Shall We Dance?’ embodies that. The melody is so beautiful, and I think the song has translated into pop culture.”

The King and I tickets are available now!

By Kevin Thomas

From as early as I can recall, writing has always been my passion. Being able to combine this with my love for theatre has been a rewarding and exhilarating experience. I truly believe that there is magic in seeing a story brought to life on stage, and this is what I would like to promote to audiences.