Actress happy to have coveted role in ‘King and I’

She’s been cast in The King and I, a show that’s always been one of her favorites, and in a role she’s always wanted to play.

“You can’t beat the music or the enduring allure of this show,” said Rachel York, who is taking the role of Anna in the production running through Jan. 8 at the Walnut Street Theatre.

Indeed, since it originally opened on Broadway in 1951, The King and I has continued to capture the hearts of millions with its charming story of the British governess brought into the court of Siam to tutor the King’s many children. Once inside the Royal Palace, Anna and the King grow to understand each other and learn about each other’s cultures.

Derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became the school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, the production contains classic songs including Getting to Know You, I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers, and the unforgettable Shall We Dance?

“It’s hard to find the words to describe Anna,” said York. “She was a feminist in her own right. She was very brave at a time when just a woman and her young child going off to Siam alone was probably seen as something very foolish. But she was a very passionate and very romantic woman who was very patient, something I’ve learned to develop over the years as well.”

Becoming a performer has been something York has wanted since she was growing up in Orlando, Fla., the youngest of four children, and was attending middle school.

“As a child, I was very shy and never thought of acting as a career,” she said. “But I remember singing along with my mother at the piano, and by the time I was in the choir at middle school, I began to realize I had a pretty good voice. I think it all began from there.”

Being a latchkey kid, York said, when she got home, she was alone and would begin to fill the emptiness by singing all the time. From there, she remembered discovering that she not only wanted to be a singer, but an actress as well.

At 17, York got a chance to try out her new skills when she landed a part in the chorus of a dinner-theater production of Kiss Me Kate. Before long, she was asked to take the lead.

By 19, York moved to New York to pursue her career. Her first big break was in the Tony-award winning production of City of Angels. Since then, she has gone on to appear on Broadway as Fantine in Les Miserables, Norma Cassidy in Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews, in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sly Fox and more.

She also gave an outstanding portrayal as Lucille Ball in the CBS television movie Lucy.

For her various portrayals — both here and abroad — York has won many awards and accolades. For her performance in the national and London tours of the Tony-winning revival of Kiss Me Kate, York earned both the IRNE and Helen Hayes nominations. She also earned a Carbonell Award for her portrayal of Guinevere in the national tour of Camelot. Most recently she created the successful role of the evil Cruella de Vil in The 101 Dalmatians Musical.

Today, York, 40, a new mother, said she is quite content with the way her life is going.

“Right now, I’d very much like to create another role on Broadway,” she said. “I think it’s time for me to come back. I’ve been in Los Angeles and having a baby and it’s all been so wonderful. But now I think it’s time for me to be back on Broadway.” ••

For times and ticket information, call 215-574-3550 or 1-800-982-2787.