Rodgers and Hammerstein Classic Makes OVST Debut

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On this edition of Conversations from Studio B, Marlo Tinkham talks with the director and cast members of Ohio Valley Summer Theater's (OVST) The King and I, premiering June 19 at the Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater, located in Ohio University's Kantner Hall.

OVST Managing Director Tinkham is joined by King and I Director Denise Gabriel, cast members Annah Abetti Korpi ("Anna Leonowens"), Jane Zhang ("Royal Princess") and Production Stage Manager/Sound Designer Franny Gallagher.

Although the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has been performed countless times throughout the world, this production marks the first time in OVST's 63-year history that it has been presented locally.

The musical is based on the real-life memoires of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s.

In the show, Anna is invited to Thailand by the King (played by Joe Balding) 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.

Veteran director and former Ohio University School of Dance, Film, and Theater faculty member Denise Gabriel—one of Tinkham’s former professors—is directing the production.

"The artistic direction committee, the OVST board and I were happy to invite someone with so much experience and a wonderful creativity to direct a timeless classic for the community," said Tinkham.

Gabriel, a 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, she 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.

Gabriel has enjoyed her return to Athens, which has remained close to her heart throughout the years.

"I have fond memories of OVST in the '70s…wonderful years with friends, students, colleagues and, most important, my grandbaby and daughter and son-in-law, all who currently live in Athens and work with the University," she said.

Gabriel read 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.

"I have a serious interest and respect for Eastern culture. I intended 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."

The King and I will be presented June 19-22, 26-29 and July 3, 5 and 6. For ticket information and show times, visit For more information about Ohio Valley Summer Theater, visit OVST on Facebook or email

Photos by Elena Caple/Fascinate Photography