DIVA TALK: A Chat with The King & I's Powers PLUS News of Salonga and Benanti

News   DIVA TALK: A Chat with The King & I's Powers PLUS News of Salonga and Benanti News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Stefanie Powers as The King and I's Anna Leonowens
Stefanie Powers as The King and I's Anna Leonowens

STEFANIE POWERS

Though she is best known for her Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated work as Jennifer Hart on the hit TV series "Hart to Hart," Stefanie Powers has a long history in the theatre. Though she has yet to appear on Broadway, the actress — who is also dedicated to the preservation of wild animals — has starred in productions of Oliver!, Annie Get Your Gun and My Fair Lady. She also co-starred with John Barrowman in the London production of Matador and toured the U.S. as Margo Channing in the most recent revival of Applause. A few years back, Powers succeeded Elaine Paige in the West End revival of The King and I, and she recently returned to the role of Anna Leonowens in the current tour of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. I recently had the chance to chat with the actress singer, whose musical talent can be tasted on her new Jambo Music CD, "Stefanie Powers—On the Same Page." That brief interview follows:

Question: What made you decide you wanted to tour again?
Stefanie Powers: It seemed like a good idea. [Laughs.] It's a wonderful piece. I haven't toured the United States for quite awhile.

Q: Do you enjoy touring?
Powers: I don't enjoy touring in the wintertime. [Laughs.] The toughest part is going to be the first five months because of the obvious problems of weather and people having colds on airplanes and flights getting canceled. That's going to be the roughest part. Once we get through the winter, it'll be better.

Q: How long are you scheduled to be with the tour?
Powers: The whole tour, with a couple of breaks, will be ten months, so it's the better part of next year. Q: When did you first play the role of Anna?
Powers: In England I took over in the West End production for Elaine Paige. That was a joy to do, and I get to do [the tour] with the same actor playing the King, Ronobir Lahiri. He also toured the rest of the U.K. [with Marti Webb as Anna].

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Anna?
Powers: I think the classroom scene. That's a lot of fun.

Q: Do you enjoy working with the little kids?
Powers: Yes! [Laughs.] In this case we've got a wonderful cast of children, some of whom don't speak English. But I speak a little Chinese. I speak a bit of Mandarin and a tiny bit of Cantonese, so I hope my language will improve.

Q: How did the London role come about?
Powers: I think we approached [the producers]. They were looking for someone to take [over for Elaine Paige]. I guess it was the right person at the right time.

Q: When did your love of the theatre begin? Did your parents take you to shows as a child?
Powers: Yes, I'm sure it was through early exposure. That's what's lovely about [The King and I]. Because it's such a wonderful piece, such a fabulous piece of entertainment, we get to reach and hopefully impress a whole new generation of young people who need to be exposed to good music and have a positive connection with the theatre. And that's what this play does, and it's wonderful to be a part of it.

Q: Do you get to see much theatre now? Do you get to New York at all or do you see things out in L.A.?
Powers: I live also in England, so I see a great deal of theatre.

Q: Anything that's particularly impressed you recently?
Powers: I think Kevin Spacey's first play at the Old Vic, [Maria Goos’ Cloaca]. It got mixed reviews, but I thought it was a wonderful production, beautifully directed and wonderfully acted.

Q: What are some of your favorite theatre roles that you've done?
Powers: ["Hart to Hart" co-star] Robert Wagner and I did a very successful — over 400 performances — of Love Letters, which was very successful for both of us. There was a wonderful Alan Ayckbourn play called How the Other Half Loves, and there was a musical in England called Matador, which I enjoyed very much doing.

Q: Do you have a preference for doing musicals versus dramas?
Powers: Well, a good musical is awfully tempting! [Laughs.] But I think it has to do with the quality of the piece. Obviously, anything of quality: a good play, a good musical, a good script makes all the difference.

Q: Do you still study voice? How do you protect your voice while your doing eight performances a week?
Powers: I work on it — continually.

Q: Any other projects your involved in at the moment?
Powers: Well, I have another life, which is my life in conservation. That's an ongoing commitment to both the William Holden Wildlife Foundation and the Jaguar Conservation Trust, both of which I head. I'm also a fellow of the Los Angeles Zoo and several other zoos. I'm an advisor to some species survivor programs. It's a very large commitment for me and ongoing. It's not something I just put my name to. It's something that I'm deeply involved with. I authored the Jaguar Conservation Trust. I am the principal fundraiser and person who sets the curriculum of the Education Center of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, which functions in Kenya, and we serve over 10,000 students a year.

Q: Will it be difficult keeping up those commitments while touring?
Powers: It will be challenging.

Q: Last question: When people hear the name Stefanie Powers, what would you like them to think?
Powers: Gosh, that's an interesting question. I've never thought of anything that way. I don't know that I'd like them to think about anything other than to at least have some positive impression.

The current itinerary for The King and I tour — with Powers as Anna Leonowens — follows:
Jan. 11-30 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, MI
Feb. 1-13 at the France-Merrick PAC in Baltimore, MD
Feb. 15-20 at the Moran Theatre at Times Union Performing Arts Center in Jacksonville, FL
Feb. 22-27 at the Milwaukee Theater in Milwaukee, WI
March 1-2 at The Whiting in Flint, MI
March 4-13 at the Dupont Theatre in Wilmington, DE
March 17-April 3 at the Hobby Center in Houston, TX
April 5-17 at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, CA

[For more information about Powers' wildlife work, visit The William Holden Wildlife Foundation at www.whwf.org or The Jaguar Conservation Trust at www.jaguarusa.com.]

DIVA TIDBITS

Tony Award winner Lea Salonga will kick off her first U.S. concert tour Feb. 12 in San Francisco, CA, at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. Backed by her brother, musical director Gerard Salonga, the former Flower Drum Song star will also play Feb. 19 at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ; Feb. 26 at the Aire Crown Theater is Chicago, IL; and March 5 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, CA. About the upcoming concerts, Salonga recently said, "I look forward to being back on stage, just me and a band of musicians making some good music the old fashion way. It's as intimate a show as it can get." Visit www.ticketmaster.com for tickets.

Two-time Tony Award nominee Laura Benanti will debut her new concert act, Blame It On My Youth Feb. 7 at Feinstein's at the Regency. Part of the Monday-night season of "Broadway's Brightest Lights," Benanti's program will feature songs from her theatrical career as well as classic jazz tunes and original material. Jamie McGonnigal directs with musical supervision by James Sampliner. Show time is 8:30 PM. Feinstein's at the Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. There is a $25 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.

Capathia Jenkins, who starred as the Washing Machine in the Tony nominated Broadway musical Caroline, or Change, will debut a new song cycle at Joe's Pub in March. On March 20 and 27, the lush-voiced singer will perform Phenomenal Woman, a song cycle set to the words of poet-writer Maya Angelou. Louis Rosen, the composer of Phenomenal Woman, and pianist David Loud will also be part of the world-premiere concerts. Show time is 7 PM. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets, priced at $20, are available by calling (212) 239-6200. Visit www.joespub.com for more information.

The second annual embrace! concert to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation will be held Feb. 17 at the Westside Theatre. Presented by Michele Helberg and Jamie McGonnigal, the evening will feature the talents of Nancy Anderson, Bryan Batt, Nikki Renee Daniels, Max von Essen, Darius de Haas, Tom Hewitt, Kate Pazakis and "Queer Eye" star Jai Rodriguez as well as singer/songwriters Jenny Giering and Randi Driscoll. McGonnigal will direct the 7 PM concert, which will feature songs that celebrate diversity, inspiration and hope. The Westside Theatre is located at 407 West 43rd Street. Tickets are available by calling (646) 289-6864 or by visiting www.MatthewShepard.org.

Costume designer Willa Kim, playwright and sometime leading lady Charles Busch, Pacific Overtures' Francis Jue and director- choreographer Lu Yu will preside over the Anna May Wong look-alike contest at the Jan. 24 benefit dinner celebrating the 100th birthday of Hollywood's first Asian-American star. The evening at the Manhattan Penthouse (14th Street and Fifth Avenue) will benefit Pan Asian Rep and will be hosted by comedienne Esther Goodhart. Tickets, priced $200-$500, are available by calling (212) 868-4030. (This spring Pan Asian Rep will present the world premiere of Elizabeth Wong's China Doll, a re-imagining of the life of Anna May Wong.) Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.