Shall we dance?

Princess practices her bow at rehearsal

Students dance and sing at the  presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” Thursday, March 13 through Saturday, March 15 at Unionville High School. The musical returns to the Unionville stage this week for the first time since 2001. The Broadway classic is filled with gorgeous and exotic costumes and amazing scenery underpinned by a nimble musical score that jumps from the nostalgic, the humorous, to the thought-provoking and the romantic.

“The King and I” was the fifth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, “Anna and the King of Siam,” the play tells the real-life story of British-born Anna Leonowens who was governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. “The King and I” premiered on Broadway on March 29, 1951 and earned Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress (Gertrude Lawrence) and Best Featured Actor (Yul Brynner). The 1956 film was also a smash, winning the Best Actor Award for Brynner. Director Scott Litzenberg explains the show’s appeal: ”It’s a great story of love and caring between the most unlikely characters.”

Leah Monteleone (Princess Yaowalak) and Soren Sheckells (Crown Prince Chululongkorn) share a laugh backstage during rehearsal for The King and I at Unionville High School opening March 15.

Rehearsals for “The King and I” began is January as a flurry of 84 cast members, 39 crew and 18 musicians set out to learn their places and roles. Stacey Cotrotsisos, self-named “kid wrangler” of the thirty-one younger students from Chadds Ford, Unionville, Pocopson, Hillendale and Patton, says her charges have been so patient and well-behaved. When asked what they liked best about being in the high school musical, a group of Pocopson and Hillendale  girls answered in unison, “the experience.”

Litzenberg says that one of the unusual features of this year’s musical is the creative use of set pieces and stage space. There is more room to move about for “Shall We Dance?” and there is a wall of sound provided by the eighteen member pit orchestra of students and nine adults. All the choreography was created by Unionville students, including the ballet for “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” Litzenberg also points with pride to the work of the lighting, sound and stage crew.

The leads in the show are strong and well-cast for their demanding roles. Ethan Pan (King) has appeared in district shows since 8th grade and has had the lead in most of the them. He thinks of himself as a singer and is grateful for the theater experience which has allowed him to express himself creatively while singing. Pan claims to be energetic and loud, so he has had to “rein” in his energy in his portrayal of the stoic, always in-control king.

Alexandra Koban-Hogue (Anna) grew up watching musicals with her parents, but didn’t act in a show until “The Wizard of Oz” when she was in eighth grade. Testing for her black belt in tang soo do and tae kwon do conflicted with the show her freshman year, but she has performed in every other one since. Alex is thoughtful and reflective about her portrayal of Anna. “She’s a strong woman facing and adapting to a new world. She teaches her son about a new culture while teaching the king’s children about theirs.”

Alex expected to be a role model to the youngsters in the show, but she says, “their raw love for the theater and exorbitant amounts of energy and passion have inspired me and all the other members of the cast!”

All shows begin at 7:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased for $12-14 at

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About Lora B. Englehart

Lora has a passion for art, gardening, yoga, music and dancing. She continues to research the life of locally born abolitionist and 1998 National Women's Hall of Fame inductee Mary Ann Shadd Cary. She is a dedicated community volunteer, working with the American Association of University Women, Wilmington, DE branch (programs chair), Chadds Ford Historical Society (former board member) and Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. Lora lives in Birmingham Township with her husband Bill and son Brad. Daughter Erika lives in Pittsburgh with husband Bob and baby Wilhelmina. She is a former French, Spanish and ESL teacher, bilingual life insurance underwriter and public relations coordinator for Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.



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