Living

He has made sure ‘The King and I’ and other Rodgers & Hammerstein classics endure

Ted Chapin always had been surrounded by the arts and had fostered a love for theatre from a young age. There was little in his background, however, to hint that one day he would be at the helm of a company synonymous with Broadway itself.

Chapin, the president and chief creative officer for Rodgers & Hammerstein, has helped steward the legacy of the creators of such musical theatre classics as “State Fair” into the 21st century. He has doggedly pursued new avenues to introduce the work to new audiences, including the television production “The Sound of Music Live!” on NBC in 2013.

The company’s national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” begins its six-day run at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium March 19. It’s the timeless story of Anna, a British schoolteacher, hired by the King of Siam (now Thailand) as part of his efforts to modernize the country, and the love that develops between them during a tumultuous working relationship.

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Ted Chapin is president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which is responsible for managing the copyrights of the two composers.

As for Chapin, it took a leap of faith for the former production assistant to rise through the ranks to his current role.

“It was the year after Richard Rodgers had died,” Chapin said in a phone interview with The News & Observer, “and the (Rodgers & Hammerstein) families did not know what to do with the office. They knew that the checks came to them from the office, but they didn’t quite know how or where or why. I knew Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard, who was herself a composer. Mary had seen some of the work I had done onstage, and so she piped up and said, ‘What about...Ted?’”

That was in 1981. Looking back now, Chapin said, he calls it a “magical moment.”

“Being the person who was put in charge of the management of these copyrights, it was kind of a learn on-the-job situation,” Chapin said. “I was working for family members who were very respectful of the fact that they had inherited some valuable copyrights, but also understood that it was the entertainment business, where some things work while other things didn’t. What I got right off the bat was that my task was to keep the shows alive in whatever way we could, and that’s what I’ve sort of been doing for the last 30 years.”

It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship for both Chapin and the company he represents, as he had long known his dream was to work in musical theatre. Although before the opportunity with Rodgers & Hammerstein he was still trying to figure out exactly where he belonged. Now, he is able to participate in the creation of works of art without having to worry about taking on the burden of creating an entire production himself.

“There’s an energy to musical theater that attracts people like me,” he said. “After the first Broadway show I ever saw as a kid, I would take the subway and buy Standing Room tickets whenever I could, and I saw some remarkable stuff like that.

“I have Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of “Hamilton”) to thank for the phrase ‘I wanted to be in the room where it happened.’ That’s all I really wanted to be. I didn’t know what I actually wanted to be, I just knew that I wanted to be part of it. In a way that’s why this job was perfect for me, because I’m not in rehearsal and I’m not producing, but I’m there to be supportive. I’m there as a resource.”

Angela Baumgardner as Anna Leonowens and the Royal Children in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I. Photo by Matthew Murphy..jpg
Angela Baumgardner as Anna Leonowens and the Royal Children in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Matthew Murphy

Keeping alive the iconic properties under the Rodgers & Hammerstein name — shows like “Oklahoma!,” “Cinderella” and “State Fair” — for three decades has only led to the titles becoming even more representative of what a musical can offer in many theatergoers minds. That said, it also can lead to the misconception that each new production will be identical to the last. Chapin is quick to put that thought to rest.

“Even if someone has seen ‘The King and I’ a few times now, this production is directed by Bartlett Sher (the director of the currently running Broadway revival of ‘My Fair Lady’), who is pretty much the reigning director of American musicals these days.”

Sher collaborated with actors to bring the script to life, both the spoken word and the songs that tie them all together.

“He really dives in; I mean, he put a few lines that were cut back in, and stuff that’s cut tended to be cut for a reason,” Chapin said. “These dealt with politics that have changed somewhat, so now there are things that you will realize about the story and the King and Anna ... just the whole setup that you probably have never realized in the production before now.”

So, yes, Chapin said, “The King and I” will be familiar to those who have seen it before.

“But one of the things that I love about Rodgers and Hammerstein is that there are enough of these shows, that if you let one sort of fade a little bit into the background, there’s one or two others that will soon take its place,” he said. “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s name will always be in the foreground.”

Details

What: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King & I”

When: 7:30 p.m. March 19-24; 2 p.m. March 23-24

Where: Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

Tickets: $23.15 and up

Info: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com

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