Australian performer Marty Rhone shared the stage with Yul Brynner in the London West End production of The King and I more than three decades ago.
So when Rhone says Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ 2014 performance in the lead role stands comparison with Brynner’s in 1979-80, he knows what he’s talking about.
Rhone is once again appearing in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, albeit in a different role. The King And I opens at Brisbane’s QPAC Lyric Theatre on Saturday.
Brynner starred on stage and screen as the King of Siam. He became synonymous with the lead role, winning a best actor Oscar in 1956, and two Tony Awards for his performances on Broadway.
In all, Brynner played the King of Siam more than 4000 times – and the young Marty Rhone was up and close personal for dozens and dozens of those performances.
Three decades ago Rhone played Burmese scholar Lun Tha. In the latest production, he plays the Kralahome, the king’s prime minister.
“It’s very difficult to separate the two (Brynner and the King of Siam),” Rhone tells AAP.
“But the very first day Teddy walked into rehearsals, and I’m a little short-sighted, and I saw his bald head, and for a second, I thought it was a very tall Yul Brynner.
“Teddy has done an excellent job… and he has grown in this role and it’s a very challenging thing for him to do.”
Rhone was cast in the West End production of the King And I after basically running away from a successful career as a 1970s Australian pop star.
He’d had two Top 10 hits – Denim And Lace and Mean Pair Of Jeans – but the success of those singles meant acting offers were no longer coming his way.
That hurt, because Rhone’s acting career had been on the rise before his singles rocketed up the charts.
Rhone’s first musical was Godspell in 1972, playing alongside Rod Dunbar, Peta Toppano and John Waters. He also appeared in local TV series including Number 96 and the Class Of `75.
“I went overseas partly because as soon as I had that monstrous hit record (Denim And Lace) I was persona non grata for the acting profession,” Rhone says.
“I had been employed continuously in the ’70s as an actor, but the moment I became a pop singer – and I hate the term – the acting roles disappeared.
“So I went overseas and started from scratch.”
After the London production of The King And I wound up, Rhone did not set foot on stage until Jack The Ripper in 1998.
“Last year I did Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden, so this is only the third production since I did the King And I,” Rhone says.
Over the past three decades, he has done various things. He toured Australia with his own band performing Cliff Richards tribute concerts, and also became the business manager of the boxing brothers Dean, Guy and Troy Waters.
At 65, Rhone has just completed his first feature film, Rise. He was going to help produce a 50th anniversary Beatles Australian tour, but instead landed the role as the Kralahome.
“Having seen the Kralahome played in the movie and the London production, I was presuming it would be done in a similar fashion, which is not an influential role in the scheme of things,” Rhone says.
“But in this particular show, he’s an amazing character on so many different levels.
“I can’t recall him ever having a comic side to him… and how lucky am I to have something made out of this role.”
* The King And I opens at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre on Saturday. It will open at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on June 1 and at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House on September 9.