Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Paolo Montalban, Kate Baldwin, Ali Ewoldt, Alan Ariano, Rona Figueroa, Sam Simahk and More set for Lyric Opera’s THE KING AND I, April 29-May 22

Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban

Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban

Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, featuring Broadway stars Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban as Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam. Additional Broadway artists Ali Ewoldt (Tuptim), Alan Ariano (The Kralahome) and Rona Figueroa (Lady Thiang) join the cast, along with Sam Simahk (Lun Tha) and Chicagoland artists Charlie Babbo (Louis Leonowens), Jomar Ferreras (Interpreter), John Lister (Captain Orton), David Parkes (Sir Edward Ramsay), Peter Sipla (Phra Alack) and Matthew Uzarraga (Prince Chulalongkorn). All but Lister make their Lyric debuts with The King and I.

Lyric Opera’s The King and I runs April 29 through May 22 (press opening April 30) at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $29 and are available now at or at 312-827-5600.

“We are delighted to have so many accomplished artists from Chicago and around the country making their Lyric debuts in this beautiful production,” says Lyric’s general director Anthony Freud. “The full cast, chorus, and orchestra will collaborate marvelously in creating an exceptional experience for our audience.”

The King and I is the fourth Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to be presented as part of Lyric’s American Musical Initiative. Lee Blakeley, who staged the production’s 2014 premiere at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, makes his Lyric debut teaming up with distinguished Broadway conductor David Chase, who conducted Lyric’s acclaimed Carousel last season. The creative team also includes choreographer Peggy Hickey (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), costume designer Sue Blane and scenic designer Jean-Marc Puissant.

Alan Ariano

Alan Ariano

Alan Ariano (The Kralahome) makes his Lyric debut, marking his tenth production of The King and I, having played the King three times and the Kralahome six times. Broadway credits: The King and I (Lincoln Center Theater revival), M. Butterfly, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Shogun: The Musical and Miss Saigon (original company member). National tour credit: Flower Drum Song. Off-Broadway credits: Shanghai Moon (opposite Charles Bush) and Pan Asian Rep’s Imelda, A New Musical. World premieres include The Geffen Playhouse’s Extraordinary Chambers, The Portland Center Stage’s Snow Falling on Cedars, Prospect Theater’s Honor and Diverse City Theatre’s The Encounter. Regional theaters include The Kennedy Center, The MUNY, Segerstrom Center, Dallas Summer Musicals, Walnut Street Theatre, Pioneer Theater, The Fifth Ave, TUTS Houston, Music Theatre of Wichita, San Diego CLO and Weston Playhouse. Television credits include: Harry’s Law, Leverage, Law & Order, As The World Turns, One Life Left to Live, Parco, P.I., Saturday Night Live and guest-starring opposite Isabella Rossellini on HBO’s Treme as Annie’s parents.

Charlie Babbo (Louis Leonowens) makes his Lyric debut. Theater credits: Mary Poppins (Paramount Theatre); Les Miserables, A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane); Treasure Island (Lookingglass Theatre); A Christmas Story: The Musical (National Tour, Off-Broadway); A Walk on the Moon (Broadway workshop, dir. Michael Grief); and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Chicago Shakespeare Theater workshop). Television/film credits: Chicago Fire, Season 2 (recurring; NBC); Finding Santa (TLC); The Onion; and upcoming feature film American Fable.

Ali Ewoldt

Ali Ewoldt

Ali Ewoldt (Tuptim) makes her Lyric debut, taking a hiatus from the Broadway revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center. She made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the first Broadway revival of Les Miserables, starred as Maria in the first national tour of West Side Story directed by Arthur Laurents and David Saint (including at the Cadillac Palace Theater) and played Luisa in The Fantasticks Off-Broadway, the world’s longest running musical. Other credits include: Carnival (Musicals Tonight Off-Broadway, Lili), Les Miserables (third national tour, Cosette), West Side Story (international tour, PCLO, MUNY; Maria), Tennessee Williams’ Period of Adjustment (W.H.A.T.; Isabel) and concerts at Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall and The Town Hall. TV/Film credits include: The Michael J. Fox Show, Yield and DRAMA: The Webseries.

Jomar Ferreras (Interpreter) makes his Lyric debut. Chicago credits include: Jesus Christ Superstar (Theo Ubique), South Pacific (Light Opera Works), A Christmas Carol (Quest Ensemble Theatre), The Guide to Being Single (Underscore Theatre). Regional: Disney’s Believe (DCL), I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Crossroads Repertory Theatre), Mixed Signals (Duplex NYC).

Rona Figueroa

Rona Figueroa

Rona Figueroa (Lady Thiang) makes her Lyric debut with her first production of The King and I, returning to Chicago where she made her professional debut as an actor in the ensemble of Miss Saigon, first national tour. Figueroa has also appeared in Chicago in the third national tour of Les Miserables in the role of Eponine. Broadway: Miss Saigon, Kim; Les Miserables, Eponine; Nine (Revival) Juliette & Carla u/s; Lennon; Les Miserables Revival, Fantine u/s. Regional: Rent, Mimi; Boys From Syracuse, Luciana; Jesus Christ Superstar, Mary Magdalene; We Will Rock You. Film/TV: Dragonheart, A New Beginnin, Slow Jam King, Mysteries of Laura, Eye Candy, Gossip Girl, Royal Pains.

John Lister (Captain Orton) returns to Lyric for his third production, having previously appeared in Show Boat and Porgy and Bess both under the direction of Francesca Zambello. His Chicago theater credits include numerous productions with: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Steppenwolf, Writers Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Remy Bumppo, Eclipse, CollaborAction, Theatre at the Center and Marriott Lincolnshire. Regional credits include productions with: American Players Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Peninsula Players, Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare and The International Mystery Writers’ Festival (under the direction of the late Brian Bedford). He received his Bachelor’s degree in performance from Ball State University and his Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from Michigan State University. Film and television credits include: Public Enemies (Universal), Animals (Oscilloscope), The JAMZ (NYTVF), Prison Break (FOX), The Beast (A&E), The Secret Santa (TLC) and Chicago Fire (NBC).

David Parkes (Sir Edward Ramsay) makes his Lyric debut. As a company member of TimeLine Theatre his work includes the roles of Martin Heidegger in Hannah and Martin (After Dark Award), John Proctor in The Crucible (After Dark Award), Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, Richard Apple in The Apple Plays, John Honeyman in A Walk in the Woods, Henry II in The Lion in Winter, Moe Axlerod in Awake and Sing and Warden Whalen in the Chicago premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Not About Nightingales (Joseph Jefferson citation). Additional Chicago credits: Steppenwolf’s production of Tennessee Williams’ One Arm (dir. Moises Kaufman); and productions with American Theater Company, Apple Tree, Eclipse, Footsteps, Greasy Joan, House, Northlight, Streetsigns, and the Piven Theatre Workshop. Parkes’s recent television credits include Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, The Beast, The Chicago Code and Boss. He is a graduate of New York University’s BFA program in conjunction with the Lee Strasberg Institute, and Florida State University’s MFA program with the Asolo Conservatory.

Sam Simahk (Lun Tha) makes his Lyric debut, returning to Siam after a few years away. Previous credits include: Huntington Theatre Company (A Little Night Music), Lyric Stage Company of Boston (Sondheim on Sondheim, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Spelling Bee), Speakeasy Stage Company (Big Fish), Starlight Theatre (Miss Saigon), Ocean State Theatre (The King and I), Ogunquit Playhouse (Miss Saigon), Seacoast Repertory Theatre (Grease!), and Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre (Carousel, Thoroughly Modern Millie). Born and raised in Ashburnham MA, Simahk is a graduate of Emerson College, resident of New York City, and member of AEA.

Peter Sipla (Phra Alack) makes his Lyric debut. He was most recently seen as Sonny in Marriott Theatre’s City of Angels. Prior to this, Peter spent nine months traveling the Caribbean, being friends with the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin in The Walt Disney Theatre on the Disney Fantasy. Chicago area credits include: Miss Saigon (Paramount Theatre); Juno, Blood and Gifts (TimeLine Theatre); Maple and Vine (Next Theatre); Travels with my Aunt (Writers’ Theatre), Year Zero (Victory Gardens Theater); Passion (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); Elephant’s Graveyard (Red Tape Theatre); Company (Brightside Theatre); and work with Theatre Wit, First Folio Theatre, Fox Valley Rep, Porchlight Music Theatre, Collaboraction, Steel Beam Theatre and regionally at Cardinal Stage Company. Sipla’s voiceovers can be heard in numerous commercials on national television, radio and online. He is a North Central College alumnus.

Matthew Uzarraga (Prince Chulalongkorn) makes his Lyric debut. He was most recently seen as Schwartz in A Christmas Story the Musical at Paramount Theatre. Other Chicago area credits: The King and I (Prince Chulalongkorn) at Marriott Theatre; Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Flounder) and Shrek the Musical (Young Shrek/Baby Bear) at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Les Miserables (Gavroche) and Oliver! (Workhouse Boy/Fagin’s Gang) at Drury Lane Oakbrook; and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Children’s Chorus) and Miss Saigon (Tam u/s) at Paramount Theatre. Commercial and industrial credits include Accenture, Toys R Us, Shout, Incredible Islands and Cap Gun Collective. Voiceover credits: Toys R Us and Dish Network, and the forthcoming star-studded cast of the animated short film Moose.

The Lyric premiere of The King and I is generously made possible by The Negaunee Foundation, two Anonymous Donors, Robert S. and Susan E. Morrison, and Northern Trust.

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and

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