Blackhawk’s cast of 50 to stage ‘The King and I’

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COURTESY PHOTO

Jesse Harris, as the king, holds the littlest prince, portrayed by 4-year-old Judah Hooley. When the people bow in the temple, the boy is in the way and the king moves him to a different spot.

Director Rick Luedeke is enthusiastic about Blackhawk Christian Theatre’s presentation of “The King and I.”

“I have not done a classic before,” he said. “Never a Rodgers and Hammerstein in all my years of teaching!”

But just last year, the musical found a revival on Broadway. “The King and I” is making a tour throughout the United States and Luedeke could see that the Blackhawk Christian School students entering the 2017 spring semester would be ready for the challenge. So it was time.

With a cast of 50 student actors and musicians, it’s “the largest cast I’ve ever worked with,” he said. Auditions were held before the Christmas break, and rehearsals began Jan. 6. BCT will present “The King and I” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, in the North Campus Gym, 7400 E. State Blvd., Fort Wayne, where the elementary school is located. Tickets will be available at the door and cost $8 for adults and $6 for children. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Costumes are being crafted and brought in from all over the world, including some clothing items from Thailand. “(Our) costumer is amazing,” Luedeke said, noting that she has been shopping all over the U.S. for different fabrics to use.

The costumer, a part of the Blackhawk staff, is supported by a stable of moms and students who are helping to sew the costumes. “Anna’s dresses are huge and she has five or six costume changes,” Luedeke said. “I don’t know how many [outfits] the king has — I haven’t seen them, yet.”

With the BCT production of “The King and I,” Luedeke (pronounced Lee’ deh-kee) is aiming to present something as close to the original 1951 Broadway experience as possible. “We’re doing the overture,” he said, noting that the 5-minute piece isn’t heard very often in modern presentations.

“We’re trying to emulate what was done in the 1950s … Audiences wanted to bask in the evening,” he said. Luedeke sees himself as aiming toward several goals: he wants to be true to what people have seen, if they have been to a production of “The King and I,” and he wants to give new viewers a full taste of the real experience.

This includes choreographing a 14-minute ballet in the middle of Act II, which is a portrayal of the story, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” This was a challenge for a cast that is, technically, not trained in dance. Becky Hall, who runs her own dance studio, is the choreographer for the BCT production and is making sure that the dancing will fit the skills of the actors.

To put on a production of this size, help comes from many different areas. Luedeke noted that six positions, including the dialect coach, technical director, assistant choreographer, rehearsal assistant and vocal coach are all staffed by former Blackhawk students who have since graduated and returned to their alma mater.

Students age 4-18 will be participating in all the roles. “Especially for theater… some of our students don’t go out and see theater [on their own],” Luedeke said. “I want to expose them to excellent theater, to theater that makes them think,” he said.

While he admitted that every student in this production will not become a lifelong actor, many of those who participate and who watch will be lifelong consumers of media entertainment. Therefore, he wants to help them to develop into discerning audience members, and to help them cultivate an appreciation for the arts.