For DeAnna Choi, it was never a question of whether or not she wanted to be on stage. The professional actress plays Lady Thiang in the Broadway national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I. The show, based on the Lincoln Center theatre production, will have a two night run in Columbus at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts this week.
Unlike many of her colleagues, Choi is living her dream in her first major professional role. The actress has been training for the moment for decades, and couldn't be more thrilled to be on stage in her dream role.
It's easy to forget that the people we see on stage are just that - people. In addition to the story being told on stage, are hundreds of real life stories being lived out behind the curtain.
Read on to discover the story of DeAnna Choi, the women you'll see as Lady Thiang on stage this week in The King and I. Meet the strong, determined actress and take a few moments to learn more about her story before you witness her living her dream in front of your eyes.
DeAnna Choi in her role as Lady Thiang in 'The King and I.'
Photo courtesy of www.deannachoi.com
Q: What it is like to play Lady Thiang?
A: It is a dream role. Believe it or not. I didn't realize what a wonderful role it was until I began preparing for it. After performing it for 166 performances, I can still say it's such a wonderful role. She's such a strong character. She's a proud, devoted wife and is so dedicated to her King and country.
I think in this current time with women becoming so prominent in society, it's so relevant. The way it was written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, they have her appear throughout the whole show. Whether she's speaking or not speaking, they really used her character to display how much of a role she has in shaping society and the future of her son and her country. She cares so much about her son's education and he is who will eventually become King of Siam. You just really get to see how important women are, even though they may not always have strong prominent voices. Women do so much, and I think that this particular production of The King and I just really brings that to the forefront. It's very exciting to be a part of this show.
Q: How do you feel as though your training has prepared you for this role?
A: It has definitely been a lifelong journey for me. I have known I wanted to be a professional artist since I was seven years old. Unfortunately, for an arts professional, the path is not necessary linear. You know, you don't just get a four year degree and all of a sudden get to be on stage with all of the cool people.
For me, I was in and out of schools - which is a story in and of itself - but I am 37 now. I worked ten years in accounting and finance management. That gave me a lot of life experience as far as what it means to be a leader, which I think is definitely important for my role in the show. That life experience educated me as far as how I portray it onstage.
I've known I wanted to sing for my whole life. I didn't know exactly how I fit in - especially being a minority, too. It was harder for me. So while the opportunities were slim over the last few decades, I still continued to do classes and workshops and community theatre. Community theatre played a huge role in my preparation, because I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a lead role professionally someday, I needed to have the opportunity to do it whether it was paid or unpaid. Luckily, I was talented enough to get the lead roles in my community theatre, so then I would work with my coaches and really honed the craft of what it means to build a character. It is a craft. Some people think it comes naturally, and there is an aspect of that too, but I think that it is very much a technical craft that an actor has to understand.
I have been in vocal training intermittently over the years, which has been absolutely crucial. Having proper vocal technique is essential - especially when dealing with Rodgers and Hammerstein work because it is classically bent. I have classical training, and it gets better with age, thankfully.
I've just been really diligent and devoted and never gave up on what I love to do. I'm really thankful for that. Many people give up what they love, and I for some reason, didn't. I'm really glad I didn't give up. Finally, a year ago I happened to be at the right place at the right time and because I had put in all of the work and preparation, I was ready for the opportunity when it presented itself.
Now, I'm literally living a dream.
DeAnna Choi sings "Something Wonderful" from The King and I. (Source)
Q: That's amazing and just so encouraging. Thanks for sharing about your story. I love for our audience to know that there is a story behind each actor on stage, and I appreciate your willingness to share yours.
Do you think that your time away from the stage working as an accountant for ten years made it sweeter to come back to the stage now?
A: Oh, yes. It's really interesting - especially after having performed 166 times in a row. Every night, I take the stage and I literally am so thankful to be there. To be able to do something that was your dream for such a long time? It's incredible. It's such a fulfilling feeling to be standing on stage thinking, "This is my dream. This is exactly what I've known I wanted to do my whole life."
That is the most incredible experience I've ever been able to live. Waiting this whole time was so worth it.The assurance that I am doing the right thing comes every night, and it's so affirming.
It's a very distinct feeling to be in your dream job. There's no question. You're just so happy to be there. You try very hard to stay healthy. You get up motivated every day to be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.
It's really been amazing, and I'm just so grateful to be living my dream. ◼︎
If You Go:
What: The King and I
When: April 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: RiverCenter for the Performing Arts Cost: $57-$62. Contact: rivercenter.org