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story.lead_photo.caption Photo courtesy Matthew Murphy Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly whirl around the stage in the iconic “Shall We Dance” from “The King and I.”

"Shall we still be together

"With our arms around each other


‘The King and I’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Tuesday & Wednesday; 1:30 & 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Oct. 6; 2 & 8 p.m. Oct. 7; 2 p.m. Oct. 8

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $43 & up

INFO — 443-5600

"And shall you be my new romance?

"On the clear understanding

"That this kind of thing can happen,

"Shall we dance?

"Shall we dance? Shall we dance?"

-- Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I"

Ultimately, it's a love story: Anna Leonowens, hired to bring modern educational ideas to the court of King Mongkut, falls in love with the people of Siam. The King falls in love with her. And ever since 1951, the world has been in love with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical's magic.

On the current tour of the Lincoln Center Theater production, there's been even more falling in love. For renowned actress Laura Michelle Kelly, it's been all about learning to love the changing countryside, the new towns and the fresh audiences.

"Most people start on tour, then end up on Broadway," says Kelly, who plays "Mrs. Anna." "I did it backwards."

Kelly recently completed a year and a half on the Great White Way as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in "Finding Neverland," appeared in "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Mary Poppins" on Broadway and has also starred in "Lord of the Rings: The Musical," "Beauty and the Beast," "Les Mis," "My Fair Lady," "Mamma Mia" and "Peter Pan" on London's West End.

"I was really excited about the cast and the production, but I knew it would be a challenge," she says of "The King and I," her first tour. "I'm enjoying the adventure -- and it's taught me a lot."

Among the things the British actress had to learn the hard way were the rigors of dancing with her King (Jose Llana) in the iconic ballgown, which in this case has four layers of undergarments -- a boned corset, two hoop skirts and a petticoat -- and weighs 45 pounds.

"These are the same sweeping, beautiful, luscious costumes that won Tony Awards, so getting to wear them is incredible," she says. "I've done many quick changes in my career and have often worn a corset, but this is definitely the heaviest and most restrictive [costume]. It has to be authentic to the time, because otherwise it wouldn't have the structure to carry the weight."

In fact, Kelly says, during the early days of the tour, she was injured by the boning in the corset and went to the emergency room.

"We had to change some things, and I had to adjust to my physical limitations."

Keeping the costumes perfect -- washed, dry cleaned, mended, steamed, pressed, accessible to the actors -- is the job of wardrobe supervisor Laci Bradshaw-Roberts, who has her own love story that involves a tour of "Beauty and the Beast," a stop-over in Fayetteville in 2010 and a locally hired electrician named Barrett Roberts.

"We just met and hit it off," she says. "From the second we met until the day I had to leave to go to Kansas City, we were just inseparable."

When NETworks had an opening, Bradshaw encouraged Roberts to apply, and they've been on the road together ever since. Home is Forney, Texas, about 30 miles east of Dallas, where she grew up, and Fayetteville, where they got married and Roberts' parents still live.

"We've been able to tour with 'Beauty and the Beast,' then 'Elf,' then we did a show in Vegas for a year, then went to Australia for a year, then came back and got back with NETworks for 'The Bridges of Madison County' tour, and we'll be on 'King and I' for another year," Bradshaw-Roberts says. "We've been very lucky. It can be hard for couples to be together on tour. Actors have it different, but for crew it sometimes works out better."

Once Bradshaw-Roberts arrives in Fayetteville on Monday, she'll be training 10 local dressers to help the 36-member cast during the run of the show. Kelly will have her own dresser, who travels with her, but it takes five people to get her out of the purple dress and into her end-of-show dress, Bradshaw-Roberts says.

"When we left [technical rehearsals] in New York, the designers gave us a show they want to look a certain way," she says. "It's a lot of work, but we do our best to stay true to that look."

NAN What's Up on 09/29/2017

Print Headline: More Than One Love Story

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