NEWS FROM THE ROAD
There have been a lot of road productions of The King and I in the last couple of decades‹ones with Stacey Keach, Rudolf Nureyev and, of course, the Yul Brynner perennial. Thus, producer Michael David knew that he and his colleagues at Dodger Touring had to come up with a name for the road company of the Tony Award winning revival currently on Broadway that would instantly telegraph to the nation's theatregoers that this was a new and fresh approach to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. So whose name will be above the title in the role that won Donna Murphy her second Tony when the production opens in April in Minneapolis? Hayley Mills.
"She's smart, charismatic and a very good actress," says David, the president of Dodgers. "And though she exudes a natural class, she's also absolutely wild. She's similar to Donna in many ways but with her own unique presence."
Wild? Hayley Mills? The Disney movie star of The Parent Trap and Pollyanna? She who was held up as the cheery, prim role model to a sixties generation before they rebelled in a haze of tie-dyed bell bottoms and afros? It's not as unexpected as one might initially think. After all, she is the daughter of the great British stage and film actor John Mills and novelist Mary Hayley Bell, who wrote Whistle Down the Wind.
Her older sister, Juliet, is also a veteran actress who is married to stage and screen heartthrob Maxwell Caulfield. And though Hayley is known largely as a juvenile film actress in this country, she is widely respected in Great Britain for her dramatic and musical stage work. In fact, in addition to playing in musicals of Peter Pan and Trelawney of the Wells in London, she was the first to play the role of Anna in the lavish 1991 Australian production of The King and I, directed by Christopher Renshaw, which would eventually make its way to Broadway (starring Donna Murphy). The touring version, co-starring V. Talmadge as the King, will serve as Mill's musical debut in this country, however. And she's "very excited" at the prospect of playing to American audiences and just a tad nervous that she will live up to expectations.
"I want to come back to the role as freshly as possible," she says. "After all, it's been five years. But the question in my mind is now will I be acceptable? After all, this great tradition of musical theatre is American, and King and I is one of its finest expressions. I don't think for a moment that audiences could possibly be disappointed with the production. It's so exquisite and breathtakingly beautiful. But I hope I can be worthy. In that I'm guided by the same things that always guide me as an actor: to be true to the character, in thought and feelings." As for her early fame in the Hollywood dream factory, the 51-year-old Mills simply observes, "I certainly do look back on it with great appreciation, fondness and gratitude. I was very lucky to have it all presented to me without too much sweat and also to have never really gotten caught up in the unreality of Hollywood. It was just my life at the time‹I'd do the job and then I would go away to boarding school in England. I had a strong family background as well. The only thing I regret is not having had a better education."
What advice she'd impart to young actresses today is much the same as the counsel she has given to her sons, 24 year-old Crispian, a composer and musician, and 20-year-old Ace, a University student who hopes to extend the family's acting dynasty: "You have to believe in yourself and remember why you are doing it," she says. "You have to hang on to the joy."