You’ve probably heard it.
The bewitching overture of The King and I has been thundering through the Vivian Beaumont Theater since previews began on March 12th, 2015. That year the revamp of Rodgers and Hammerstein's world famous musical swept the TONY's, winning four awards - one of which was deservedly taken home by leading lady Kelli O’Hara. Now, a little over a year later, Analisa Leaming has stepped into the hooped dress that earned O’Hara's acclaim.
Leaming, who acted as a “standby role” for O’Hara during her run, is filling the role for two weeks before Marin Mazzie takes over. She will then once again go back to “stand by” mode. However, audiences who witness her glowing performance are in for a treat. Of course, Leaming is no stranger to Broadway (having made her debut in On the Twentieth Century) or starring roles (she’s performed as Maria in The Sound of Music and the title role in Mary Poppins).
HYC happily caught up with the amazing talent, before her evening performance, to discuss: filling Kelli O’Hara’s shoes, her audition, getting into character and more…
RP: The obvious place to start is with a huge congratulations on being cast as Anna in The King and I. What an honor! Do you remember your initial audition?
AL: Oh yes, of course! I was auditioning to replace Betsy Morgan as the Anna standby. I had to prepare two scenes from the show and "Hello, Young Lovers." Everyone was in the room: Ted Sperling, Bart Sher, Bernie Telsey, Abbie Dalton, and more. It was actually very quick - I sang and did one of the scenes and it was over. The next morning my agent called and said, "What are you doing tonight?" To which I replied I didn't know. And he said "Well, you're going to see the King and I because you're the new Anna standby and you start today." Yeah, so I went in early for a fitting, saw the show for the first time that night, and started rehearsal the next day! At first there were lots of tears of joy, then upon seeing Kelli, trepidation at stepping into her shoes, followed by so so so much gratitude.
"My agent called and said... you start today."
I am so incredibly honored to be a Broadway leading lady and to hold down the fort between Kelli O'Hara and Marin Mazzie. I will continue standing by for Anna once Marin is in. I will continue to be a sponge and soak up all I can from this incredible woman.
RP: Of course, Kelli O'Hara won a TONY for her portrayal of Anna in this production. Did she leave you any parting words of advice?
AL: Well, since I stood by for her for 6 months we talked a fair amount on and off. She was always very open with me asking questions. But yes, two things: 1. She told me the stamina would come in two waves throughout the week. I would do 4 or 5 shows and think there's no way vocally I can get through anymore, but another wave comes. --- and she's exactly right. That's what happened last week. 2. She said, "This is your company now. You are Anna. Enjoy!"
RP: I'm interested in knowing how the "hand off" from one leading lady to another goes. Did Lincoln Center and Bartlett Sher (Director) want to be sure that certain aspects of "Anna" were kept the same?
AL: I think this will be more apparent when Marin Mazzie comes in - I hear her Anna is quite different from Kelli, but of course, yes, the framework must still be there since she joining a company that has been doing the show for over a year. However, Bart and the whole team are very encouraging of us finding our own versions of the characters. I know my Anna is different from Kelli's in many ways which is important in keeping it grounded and authentic rather than being a carbon copy of someone else.
RP: As a standby, I imagine that you've had the opportunity to see her and the rest of the cast perform the show several times. How do you think actually seeing the production as a whole informed your performance when you eventually took to the stage?
AL: I did see it 3 times during my first week of rehearsal and then didn't watch it again until after I was on stage for the first time. Seeing the production is hugely helpful, you get to see the whole world you're stepping into and watch the arch of the characters.
RP: Do you have a particular key to unlock the mind of the role, like a specific song or scene that most grounds you in the show?
AL: The keys for me are really identifying within myself my inherent love for teaching and sharing knowledge, and my passion for justice and equality for all. I believe that education can change a nation and I believe that women are equal to men. I cannot understand how anyone believes otherwise --- these are Anna's beliefs too. By getting in touch with this part of myself, I am priming my buttons so that when I get to Siam they are pushed almost immediately.
RP: Amen. So, when that final note of the Overture ends and that exquisite boat floats over the pit before your entrance, what's going on in your head?
AL: Well, just before this moment, during the overture I have a few mantras I repeat, I express gratitude and I wish joy and blessings to the audience and all those involved (cast, crew, etc.)
Once the boat starts moving, I am Anna. I'm thinking (some version of this): how long a journey it's been on this boat, I'm ready to arrive in Siam, I wish Tom was with us, and, at some point, I see Louis's coat and that he's gone up on the deck without it.
RP: What a great inner-monologue. Overall, what is your favorite part of being in The King and I?
AL: Telling this beautiful story. It is so poignant and powerful, and a true honor be a vessel for this masterpiece.
RP: From this run, do you have a favorite Broadway moment that you'll cherish forever?
AL: Going on for Anna for the first time will certainly be something I will never forget. I hadn't had a put-in rehearsal, or even done a full run-through on the stage.
"It was one of the most amazing moments of my life."
I was at the dog park on a Saturday last September when my stage manager texted that I was on for the 2pm matinee. Everyone rallied around me and we made it through! Now, when I was on the boat that time as it began moving my thoughts were, "Well, now it's too late to run. You have to do this!" But it was incredible - the entire cast was supporting me through every moment and it was a blast! The end of the show is very moving and emotional, but even through curtain call I couldn't stop the tears. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.
RP: That is amazing! In the same vein, what has being Anna taught you so far as an actress?
AL: So much! Everyone I share the stage with is an incredible actor. I am being asked to work at the highest level of my craft every time I step on stage with them. My work continues to deepen, there is no option to settle or get comfortable. It's all about staying in the moment - listening, gathering new information and reacting authentically -- this allows the show to be a living, breathing thing. It truly changes every performance.
RP: Was acting always something you wanted to do?
RP: Any other upcoming projects you'd like to share?
AL: Yes! I just released my podcast called 'A Balancing Act ' on iTunes. The first season is 7 episodes full of inspiring, uplifting, challenging conversations about this crazy, beautiful career we've chosen. The first two episodes are out and they are interviews with Rebecca Luker and Mara Davi. These ladies are open and vulnerable in speaking of their disappointments, rejections, ups and downs. Please subscribe and share!
RP: To end on an inspiring note, what is your best piece of advice for Broadway hopefuls?
AL: Be happy now. You cannot push or struggle your way to joy. So if you're not enjoying the journey, you won't enjoy wherever you're attempting to go. Because after all, as we know, there is no true destination. Once you book that tour, then you'll want to be on Broadway. Once you get to Broadway you'll want to be in an original Broadway show, once you get that you'll want to be a principal. Once you're starring in a Broadway show, you'll want to become a series regular in Hollywood... etc, etc, etc. There's nothing wrong with this, it's the human condition. But once we realize this is how we are wired then we can take a bit of pressure off wanting the next best thing and focus on being happy now. For me that looks like spending time outside in nature, reading a good book, exercising, playing with my puppy, eating good food with my husband, wine dates with friends, seeing a good play...
When I am happy and I keep that as my primary intention everything else unfolds more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.
RP: Thank you so much, Analisa!
Be sure to follow Analisa and us on instagram @AnalisaLeaming and @RobertPeterpaulProductions. You can definitely catch her in The King and I from now through May 1st and then your chances become more random. Either way - she is certainly “something wonderful!”