Actress happy to have coveted role in ‘King and I’

She’s been cast in The King and I, a show that’s al­ways been one of her fa­vor­ites, and in a role she’s al­ways wanted to play.

“You can’t beat the mu­sic or the en­dur­ing al­lure of this show,” said Rachel York, who is tak­ing the role of Anna in the pro­duc­tion run­ning through Jan. 8 at the Wal­nut Street Theatre.

In­deed, since it ori­gin­ally opened on Broad­way in 1951, The King and I has con­tin­ued to cap­ture the hearts of mil­lions with its charm­ing story of the Brit­ish gov­erness brought in­to the court of Siam to tu­tor the King’s many chil­dren. Once in­side the Roy­al Palace, Anna and the King grow to un­der­stand each oth­er and learn about each oth­er’s cul­tures.

De­rived from the mem­oirs of Anna Le­onowens, who be­came the school teach­er to the chil­dren of King Mon­gkut of Siam in the early 1860s, the pro­duc­tion con­tains clas­sic songs in­clud­ing Get­ting to Know You, I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lov­ers, and the un­for­get­table Shall We Dance?

“It’s hard to find the words to de­scribe Anna,” said York. “She was a fem­in­ist in her own right. She was very brave at a time when just a wo­man and her young child go­ing off to Siam alone was prob­ably seen as something very fool­ish. But she was a very pas­sion­ate and very ro­mantic wo­man who was very pa­tient, something I’ve learned to de­vel­op over the years as well.”

Be­com­ing a per­former has been something York has wanted since she was grow­ing up in Or­lando, Fla., the young­est of four chil­dren, and was at­tend­ing middle school.

“As a child, I was very shy and nev­er thought of act­ing as a ca­reer,” she said. “But I re­mem­ber singing along with my moth­er at the pi­ano, and by the time I was in the choir at middle school, I began to real­ize I had a pretty good voice. I think it all began from there.”

Be­ing a latch­key kid, York said, when she got home, she was alone and would be­gin to fill the empti­ness by singing all the time. From there, she re­membered dis­cov­er­ing that she not only wanted to be a sing­er, but an act­ress as well.

At 17, York got a chance to try out her new skills when she landed a part in the chor­us of a din­ner-theat­er pro­duc­tion of Kiss Me Kate. Be­fore long, she was asked to take the lead.

By 19, York moved to New York to pur­sue her ca­reer. Her first big break was in the Tony-award win­ning pro­duc­tion of City of An­gels. Since then, she has gone on to ap­pear on Broad­way as Fant­ine in Les Miser­ables, Norma Cas­sidy in Vic­tor/Vic­tor­ia with Ju­lie An­drews, in The Scar­let Pim­per­nel, Sly Fox and more.

She also gave an out­stand­ing por­tray­al as Lu­cille Ball in the CBS tele­vi­sion movie Lucy.

For her vari­ous por­tray­als — both here and abroad — York has won many awards and ac­col­ades. For her per­form­ance in the na­tion­al and Lon­don tours of the Tony-win­ning re­viv­al of Kiss Me Kate, York earned both the IRNE and Helen Hayes nom­in­a­tions. She also earned a Car­bon­ell Award for her por­tray­al of Guinev­ere in the na­tion­al tour of Cam­elot. Most re­cently she cre­ated the suc­cess­ful role of the evil Cruella de Vil in The 101 Dal­ma­tians Mu­sic­al.

Today, York, 40, a new moth­er, said she is quite con­tent with the way her life is go­ing.

“Right now, I’d very much like to cre­ate an­oth­er role on Broad­way,” she said. “I think it’s time for me to come back. I’ve been in Los Angeles and hav­ing a baby and it’s all been so won­der­ful. But now I think it’s time for me to be back on Broad­way.” ••

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