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November 8, 2011 > "The King and I" through the years

"The King and I" through the years

Submitted By Susan E. Evans
Photos By Terry Sullivan

"The King and I" has traveled with the Douglas Morrisson Theatre throughout its history. The Little Theatre of the Hayward Area Recreation District was dedicated in November of 1978, and the very first public performance in January 1979 at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre was a production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "The King and I." Former Artistic Director and Founder Nancy Engle (nee McCullough) produced the show, and the cast featured 42 local actors. Nancy remembers that the first "The King and I" was done on a shoestring budget. (The prow of Anna and Louis' boat was covered with the cardboard from refrigerator cartons.)

One of the local actors who played a Royal Wife in that first show was Arlene Hood, who now teaches Theatre Arts at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, and is president of the California Educational Theatre Association. Arlene also taught the vocal parts for the "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet. She first worked with the director Darryl Ferreia through HARD's teen drama program. In 1979, she had just completed college when she joined the "The King and I" team, teaching the music and rhythms.

In retrospect, Arlene sees this production as a new step in working alongside Darryl as an adult collaborator. She says doing the show here felt like she had come home and was happy to be with her "family" again. One standout memory: the two young girls playing Arlene's daughters were sisters in real life. During one performance of "Getting to Know You," they got in a huge fight, with the older sister giving her sister a bloody nose and Arlene had to take them offstage in the middle of the scene!

At the second production, the fifth anniversary of the theatre in1984, the set designer did a beautiful job - but he forgot to take into account the hoop skirts. Nancy recalls with a laugh: "Anna could not fit through the arches and she had to lift her skirt up and to the side to fit through - flashing the crew at every entrance!" Margie Swezey had just celebrated her 40th birthday when the second production opened. It was her sixth show with the Douglas Morrisson since she had first auditioned in 1981 for "Anything Goes." Margie's daughter Melanie played Princess Ying Yaowalak and she fondly remembers working on the show as a mother-daughter team. Her advice to Royal Wives: "Make sure you have your pantaloons on before you sit down in the hoop and have a fun time...!"

In the 1994 production, Nancy remembers that there were many family groups performing together. One of those groups was Lisa Saaz, playing a Royal Wife, and her daughter, Nadia, who played one of the King's many children. Nadia was seven and it was her first musical. All those children cooped up together sometimes made for as much drama backstage as onstage. Lisa still recalls one night when Nadia became so upset, she and her daughter skipped the curtain call and fled out the back door of the theatre. Next show all was forgiven and the show went on. Lisa and Nadia went on to perform in six more shows together at the Douglas Morrisson.

Bonnie Lowe plays a Royal Wife in the current production. She first saw "The King and I" when she was about 10, and she loved everything about it, the music, dancing, and the storyline. A member of the DMT chorus, Bonnie says she didn't let anyone know she was auditioning for a part in a musical ("Tale of Cinderella" in 2008). Now past her fears, she's thrilled to be part of the ensemble (there are 39 performers), and enjoys the whole process, from auditions to rehearsals, blocking and staging - all pieces of the puzzle that come together for the public on opening night.

There's also a special and somewhat poignant symmetry about closing 2011 with "The King and I" -Nancy McCullough Engle retired this past spring after more than three decades leading the Douglas Morrisson. This production marks the final show of her final season.

The show runs November 11 through December 4, with tickets $28 for adults, $25 for seniors, and $20 for juniors and students. Special prices are available for groups of ten or more. The Box Office is open Tuesday through Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and can be reached at (510) 881-6777. Additional information is available at

The King and I
Friday, Nov 11 - Dec 4
8 p.m. (Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.)
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 N. Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777

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