Kavin Panmeechao helps to bring Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” to life at the Dr. Phillips Center

By : Jeremy Williams
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Kavin Panmeechao was bit by the acting bug early. He started acting on Los Angeles stages when he was seven and, aside from a break in his teens to “do kid things,” he has been singing, dancing and acting the hell out of stages across the world ever since.

Panmeechao has charmed audiences in A Chorus Line, Hello Dolly! and Bye Bye Birdie; as well as toured the country with the smash hit musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He can currently be seen as Lun Tha in the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic The King and I, coming to the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando Sept. 12-17.

Panmeechao spoke with Watermark ahead of his Dr. Phillips performance, and vacation, here in Orlando about being an actor, life on the road and who he dreams about playing someday.

How’s the tour going?

The tour is going really well. We just finished up at the Kennedy Center last week and we have two weeks of vacation coming up before our show in Orlando, so a bunch of us are heading down early to play around in the parks and all that good jazz.

Will this be your first time in Orlando?

No, I actually use to work for Disney in college in California, but there is a lot of crossover with the parks so I visited Orlando very often. I still have lots of great friends there who work for Disney World and Universal.

How long have you been on The King and I tour?

I have been on it for about 10 months now, so quite a bit of time. It’s funny though because it feels like it was just yesterday that we started.

Is this your first touring company?

This is actually my second tour. My first tour was nine years ago with the show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I played Chip, the role Jose Llana played on Broadway, and I met him back when I started the role. It’s actually come full circle for me because I’m now playing the role in The King and I that he made his Broadway debut in the 1996 revival.

For those unfamiliar with The King and I, what is this musical about?

The King and I is about the King of Siam in the 1860s who has hired an English schoolteacher to come and teach his children and wives a Western-style education. [He was] trying to move them into a more modern way of thinking and a new mindset.

Tell us about your character, Lun Tha.

Lun Tha is the Burmese emissary who is there to escort a gift from the king of Burma to the King of Siam, which is a princess from the court of Burma. The play opens with Lun Tha already in love with her and throughout the course of the story my character tries to maintain that love.

Were you a big Rodgers and Hammerstein fan when you were a kid?

I’m a huge fan. The King and I was one of the first musicals I saw when I was a kid and it was the first musical I saw that had people that looked like me. I did a community theater production of The King and I when I was like 10 years old and my parents were also in the show. My father was The Kralahome and my mom was a wife. It’s the only time my whole family has performed together.

Did your parents both have dreams of being actors?

No, it was just a community theater but they saw something in them [laughs] and they told my parents, “hey you all should audition” and sure enough they both got cast in the show. It was a great experience getting to be up on stage with them, but they never had dreams of being on a Broadway stage.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles and loved it there. LA is beautiful because there is so much culture. There are more languages spoken in the LA area than anywhere else in the U.S., so you have this huge melting pot of cultures. So much diversity, even in the geography. I live at the base of a ski resort. So it’s warm where I live but 20 minutes up the mountain is skiing and 20 minutes west is the beach. You can’t complain about that.

Have you always wanted to be a performer?

Definitely, I loved performing. It was what I gravitated toward as a kid, but at that time it was kind of a hobby. I mean I had an agent, but I stopped acting when I was around 12 to focus on school and do kid things. Then toward the end of high school, I had to make a choice whether I really wanted to pursue acting or do something else with my life. I auditioned for a few acting schools to see if I had a shot and I was accepted into a number of them. That made the decision for me and I have been performing ever since.

Hamilton showed that a person’s race, gender and orientation doesn’t have to be a factor when casting for the stage, talent is talent. What characters, regardless of race or gender, would you like to play?

There are so many great characters out there that I have dreamed of playing, and I have put thought into this and I’ll say I do have a top five list of my dream roles. First, I need to mention I am a huge Sondheim fan so number one is George from Sunday in the Park with George. I think, as an artist, whenever I see it, read it or listen to it something new comes to me. I discover something new about the character and myself.

I definitely want to play the King in The King and I. Especially since I am a Tai person, it is doubly meaningful to me. Not only as an Asian person but as a Tai person, knowing what it was like when I first saw it and the feeling I had when I saw someone who looked like me.

You know speaking of Hamilton, I’m also fascinated by Angelica Schuyler. I think she is such an interesting character. I love that her love for her sister supersedes her need for Alexander Hamilton. Sally Bowles [from Cabaret] is another fascinating character to me. She slowly but surely buries herself in her own decadence to conceal her own fragility. I think it would be really interesting to play that.

Finally, and probably just a pipedream right now, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is doing a gay version of Oklahoma!. They have been working with [Rodgers & Hammerstein] to put it together and I would love to get a shot at Ado Annie, or Ado Andy as he is called in their version.

What are you looking forward to the most during your stay in Orlando?

Every single time I come to Orlando I am always struck by how friendly the people are. I love the people there, and I love the nightlife there too. It’s funny because I don’t really drink at all but I love to go out and dance, so I am looking forward to getting out while I’m there and meeting the great people and enjoying my time there.

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