IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The King and I”
WHERE: Tildenville Elementary School, 1221 Brick Road, Winter Garden
WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 26
COST: Free admission
ATTIRE: Audience members are asked to dress as if they are going to a Broadway show.
Colorful drapes and Asian lanterns hang from the rafters to set the scene. A golden Buddha rests at the back of the stage, near pink flowering vines that snake up the wall.
The king lay dying in his palace, his grieving Anna by his side and his wives and children kneeling behind her. After the king closes his eyes a final time and takes his last breath, the curtain is drawn.
Elementary students at Tildenville have learned their lines, rehearsed their scenes, been fitted for their costumes — and they are ready to share their musical and acting talents with parents and friends May 26.
It’s an ambitious stage show for first- through fifth-graders, but musical director Sara Story is bursting with confidence in her students.
“It’s a fabulous musical,” Story said. “We’re doing the ‘Getting To Know You’ version for pre-high school performers … and we have decided that our kids are beyond amazingly talented.”
As the school’s special-area director, she also teaches music, dance and drama at the elementary school.
“The play is written for middle schools, but our director decided to take a chance on these very talented elementary-school kids and do the show,” said Nasly Lopez, whose son is in the performance. “This is a high-caliber production all made possible by people with tremendous hearts and love for the arts. As a parent with a child in the show, I cannot wait to see it all unfold on stage.”
A total of 62 students will perform in this production.
It has been quite a commitment for these children, with rehearsals after school four days a week. Story said the first 45 minutes are devoted to homework, and she and the other volunteers, mostly parents, are there to assist should anyone need help with their work. Those who don’t have homework are expected to read or work on a computer until practice begins.
Getting parents to devote time to this project is important, too, and Story has put together a dedicated team to do just that, including her own parents, Leonard and Jane Story.
“I am putting every single bit of my life into this, as well as my parent volunteers,” she said. “My own mom and dad, they’re retired, they have been building my sets for every show I’ve done here at Tildenville. At this point, they have put in probably 5,000 hours of volunteer work, painting sets, picking and ordering costumes. They’re here at every single practice directing kids; they’ve been definitely instrumental in putting together a show like this.”
Lopez, Samantha Wheeler and Justin Farr, three parents whose children have roles in “The King and I,” have been phenomenal help, Story said. Besides Elias Lopez as The King, Caleb Farr plays Captain Orton and Sir Edward Ramsay, Lexis Wheeler is Eliza, and Caden Wheeler is Toddler. Tildenville’s bookkeeper, Debbie Valentin, has made sure the finances were kept in check and has helped when needed, too. Her granddaughter, Paige Valentin, portrays Princess Ying Yaowalak.
It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, summoned by the king to serve as tutor to his children. Folks say the king is a barbarian, and he seeks Anna’s assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. Keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the king grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another.
Anna, the lead female character, will wear a full European gown, and the Asian characters will wear Far East-inspired dresses. The males will don two-piece outfits resembling martial-arts attire, Story said.
The audience will be amazed at the set, with its Asian-inspired curtains and the palace interior painted on the back wall.
“It’s super colorful all over the place,” she said.
Story always has loved “The King and I” and has wanted to stage it at Tildenville for a few years. When she presented the idea to the chorus booster parents, they were on board.
“We purchased the musical and have been running gung-ho style ever since,” she said.
The G2K version is an adaptation of the high-school version, Story said. The love scenes and songs have been cut out; their love for each other is shown in a glance. The script and choreography also are simplified for younger performers.
Work on the production started in February, when parents started building sets and students started learning lyrics and lines.
“There is an unbelievable amount of talent,” Story said. “I’ve got headliners — like our king, who is the main lead of the entire show, has pretty much a thousand lines or more to memorize. … This kid is spot on.”
The king, Elias Lopez, is a third-grader and has tackled a role usually reserved for eighth-grade students. Not only has he learned his lines, but he knows the others, too. Story said if someone forgets his or her line, he is ready to whisper it to the actor.
“It’s amazing what these kids can do,” Story said.
Alberto Hoyos, Elias’ dance teacher at The Right Combination Dance Studio, taught the students how to do the polka.
“He is amazing with kids,” Story said. “Zuleany (Alers as Anna) was called a natural by him. He taught the kids to have confidence, not only in dance, but in everything they do.
“It was an unbelievable experience for me, too,” she said. “Alberto danced with me. I felt like I was on a cloud. Elias even danced with me, too.”
Lopez is thankful for Story’s willingness to work overtime for her students.
“These children would never be afforded the opportunity to get training like this if it wasn’t for Sara Story taking a leap of faith and moving forward with musicals time and time again — with this one being her biggest undertaking yet,” Lopez said. “She is a tremendously positive influence in the lives of so many children and their families.”
Tildenville has been best known for its dual-language program, but it’s fast becoming known for its remarkable chorus, which grows each year because of Story’s dedication to the students. She leads about 70 children in the chorus, and the group performs at locations such as Walt Disney World, West Orange High School, downtown Winter Garden festivals and a local assisted-living facility.
“The parents who are substitutes on the east side of Orlando, when they mention that their kids go to Tildenville, (people) say, ‘Oh, that’s where that incredible chorus is,’” she said.
“These kids love this positive press. … They want it, they search for it,” she said. “The way to get some absolutely amazing props is to outdo ourselves with a high-school production with a bunch of 6- and 10-year-olds. (School Board Member) Christine Moore absolutely rants and raves about us when we go to perform at the Apopka Arts and Jazz festival, and she’s been absolutely amazing to have. She loves our kids.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].
Elias Lopez is The King, and Natalie Price and Zuleany Alers are sharing the role of Anna.
Others in the cast are Caleb Farr (Captain Orton and Sir Edward Ramsay); Jonathan Fournier (Louis); Si’Nia Thompson (The Interpreter); Kaiden St. Esteben (The Kralahome); Ricardo Laso (Lun Tha); Antonina Ballerino (Tuptim); Nemiah Wallace (Lady Thiang); Christian Simmons (Prince Chulalongkorn); Paige Valentin (Princess Ying Yaowalak); Lexis Wheeler (Eliza); Machenzie Hill (Simon of Legree/wife); Katia Companioni, Haven Birket, Taylor Vance, Ramya Price, Nia Mosby and Ariana Gonzalez (Ying Narrator); Hannah Sauers (Ying Narrator/Guard); Callie Huffman (Butri); Cameron Hayes (Thara); Azriel Steele, Haley Sauers, Julissa Rivera, Makayla Sims and Kelvia Thomas (Wife); Danielle Birket (Wife/Guard); Olivia Brown (Princess 2); Abigail Rangel (Princess 6); Gabriella Montoya (Princess 9); Kyleigh Hollingsworth and Sarah McLeod (twins, Princesses 3 and 4); Aiden Fowler (Prince 1/George); Palmer Ackerbloom (Prince 8); Jadon Johnson (Prince 5); Jonathan Grunick (Prince 10); Caden Wheeler (Toddler); Caleb Wallick (Guard); Donny Malik (Uncle Thomas/Guard); Siena Wanuck (Little Eva); Ashlyn Thomas (Little Topsy); Kaylee Hollingsworth, Kelsey Grunick and Kiersten Cherry (Scientific Dog Dancers 1 through 3); and Thalia Williamson (Angel).
Musicians, dancers and performers are Sydiamond Albert, Celeste Barreto, Sebastian Barreto, Faith Birket, Serene Davis, Sydney Fanning, Juliana Gonzalez, Megan Hamlin, Camille James, Ania Laso, Aanyah Lovett, Isabel McLemore, Jaden Milham, Byron Perez, Natalia Vargas and Isabella Wallick.