Updated Fri, Dec 20, 2013 4:34 pm
Annie, Oliver! and The Music Man have been staged. Hello, Dolly!, Oklahoma! and Fiddler on the Roof are in the history books.
Now one show, never performed by the Athens-based Ohio Valley Summer Theater (OVST) since it started its collaborative Ohio University-community productions in 1951, is finally slated for June 2014.
The King and I, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway classic, will be staged by OVST in summer 2014.
The King and I tells the story based on the real-life memoires of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s.
Anna is invited to Thailand by the King to teach his children English. His invitation is a move to modernize his country in the hopes of maintaining Thailand’s independence against western pressures.
But the King balks at accepting Anna’s more contemporary view of the world and of women inside the context of the musical’s mid-1800s setting. An unlikely romance blossoms between the couple, adding intrigue to the already tension-filled plot.
Ohio Valley Summer Theater’s Managing Director Marlo Tinkham said veteran director and former Ohio University School of Dance, Film, and Theater faculty Denise Gabriel—one of Tinkham’s former professors—will direct the production.
"The artistic direction committee, the OVST board and I are happy to invite someone with so much experience and a wonderful creativity to direct a timeless classic for the community," she said.
Gabriel, professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), teaches movement and acting and also works in directing and choreography. A graduate of University of Nebraska and Ohio State University, Gabriel was the Resident Movement Director with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and a professor with the MFA Professional Actor Training Program and Acting Academy prior to joining the UNCG faculty.
Gabriel became a tenured professor in 1976 at Ohio University’s School of Theater. She has served as an American Theatre of Higher Forum Representative and is a founding board member and president of American Theatre Movement Educators.
In addition to her responsibilities in UNCG’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, Gabriel co-teaches courses in the university’s Religious Studies program and the School of Nursing.
Gabriel says she looks forward to her return to Athens where she has family and fond memories of life in Athens and OVST.
"I have fond memories of OVST in the '70s, wonderful years with friends, students and colleagues and, most important, my grandbaby, daughter and son in law, all who currently live in Athens and work with the University," she said.
Gabriel is reading Margaret Landon’s Anna and the King of Siam, a novel based on Leonowens’ memoirs and the inspiration for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, in preparation for OVST’s staging of the work.
"A few things are stirring in me along with the story's given circumstances as the core of process," she said. "I have a serious interest and respect for Eastern culture. I intend to shape into the production a perspective of respect toward the culture of Thailand-Siam as well as the complexities of the impossible adult love between Anna and the King."
Outgoing OVST Board President Faith Knutsen underscores OVST's deep appreciation for its 63-year collaboration with Ohio University's Theater Division and with community talent.
"The faculty and students in OU's theater division are a wonderful resource for our community. Their expertise enables high-quality annual community-university summer productions such as The King and I," she said. "Ohio Valley Summer Theater is also delighted to collaborate with our significant community talent in the dramatic arts for new experimental theater such as our 2013 family weekend cabaret events."
Current Vice President of the Board Kelee Riesbeck will fill Knutsen’s role as president beginning Jan. 1, 2014 and Knutsen will remain on the executive team as COO.
The Ohio Valley Summer Theater is a non-profit organization celebrating its 63rd season. A collaboration between the Southeastern Ohio community and Ohio University, OVST’s mission is to provide sustainable, educational, and independent community theater and to deliver high quality and diverse theatrical experiences appreciated by a widening volunteer base and a growing regional audience.
OVST offers educational programming for K-12 students through its annual Youth Theater Summer Camp as well as cabaret-style performances for which local talent is encouraged to audition.