Monday night’s rehearsal for the Island Theatre Workshop’s summer production of The King and I began with Lee Fierro and director Kevin Ryan gathering the cast to give them feedback. Amidst the technical discussions typical of this sort of assembly were kind words from both. At one point Ms. Fierro even became teary as she complimented nine-year-old Zachary Mathias on his performance in the first scene the night before.

Then, just before the rehearsal began in earnest, the cast scattered, much as you might see at the end of a family dinner. Phones were checked, hair and costumes were attended to, laughs were exchanged and private notes were passed out.

Welcome to community theatre, where a cast and crew of approximately 58 becomes one single unit comprised of neighbors and friends, Islanders and summer visitors, professional actors and first timers. The show opens this Saturday, August 22, at the Performing Arts Center.

Just another summer at the beach? Not for these young thespians. — Jeanna Shepard

The King and I, a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, centers around Anna Leonowens, played by Jenny Friedman, as she travels with her son Louis (Zachary Mathias) to serve as teacher to the children of the King of Siam, played by Paul Padua.

Mr. Ryan, doing double duty as director of the show and since May serving as artistic director for ITW, said the show provides a great deal for both the actors and the audience to sink their teeth into.

“I love everything about it,” he said. “It’s got women’s rights, it’s about child rearing, it’s about politics, it is about sex, it’s about everything. It’s a story that has a little of something in it for everyone.”

For both Ms. Friedman and Mr. Padua, The King & I will be their first ITW production, though neither is new to acting nor unfamiliar with the story. Mr. Padua is a summer resident of th e Vineyard and every Saturday morning he performs in the outdoor children’s theatre staple, The Fabulists, as well as playing roles in various Vineyard Playhouse productions. During the off-season he teaches math in New York city.

Mr. Padua said he attended a performance of The King and I on Broadway upon getting the part. In the Broadway production, the role of the king is played by actor Ken Watanabe and served as inspiration as Mr. Padua worked to build his own king.

Taking note of the way that Mr. Watanabe “softened him and made him more vulnerable,” Mr. Padua said that he wants to balance the human relationship between the king and Anna and the strength of the role of a monarch. He also said that after a bit of research to make sure he’s being true to history, he’ll be keeping his hair. “The shaved head was Yul Brynner’s thing.”

Ms. Friedman, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, performed the role of Anna when she was younger. “Many, many years ago, more than I even want to tell you,” she admitted.

Jenny Friedman plays Anna, her son Eli is also in the play. — Jeanna Shepard

For this production Ms. Friedman found herself able to identify with Anna more and thus develop her character in a different way. “She [Anna] is someone who has suffered loss in her life,” Ms. Friedman said. “She treasures memories, she doesn’t want to be pitied. Her devotion to her son is obvious.”

Losing her mother at a young age and the recent death of her father gave Ms. Friedman a deeper understanding of her role, she said. And similar to the character of Anna, Ms. Friedman has a nine-year-old son, Eli, who also has a role in this show.

“I connect much more so now as an adult and as a mother,” she said. “It’s really special and fun for me to be in the show with my little boy.”

Only a few minor setbacks affected this year’s production. A dance company that had originally been brought in to participate in the primary dance number had to pull out at the last minute. Wendy Taucher, a choreographer from New York city who frequents the Vineyard, stepped in and reformatted the scene into something that Mr. Ryan describes as “a very different approach...a very exciting dance.”

Custom costumes from Florida arrived with two missing and five sized incorrectly. This was remedied with a few phone calls and new measurements. To Mr. Ryan and the rest of the crew, these were small obstacles following last year’s production of Peter Pan, when they had to contend with a number of serious health issues.

The total cast and crew numbers around 58, though according to Mr. Ryan it changes every day. The most recent addition was a seven-piece live orchestra led by musical director James Higgins.

Within the cast and crew are also many families. Mr. Padua’s wife and two sons all have roles in the production. Molly and Kris Chvatal and their two daughters Katherine and Elizabeth are all acting in the show. Ms. Friedman’s son Eli plays the role of a prince.

Paul Padua, of The Fabulists fame, is the King. — Jeanna Shepard

“There’s a lot of that family connection,” said Mr. Ryan. “We have siblings, we have aunts and uncles, it’s really a family kind of affair.”

It’s the sense of camaraderie that attracts many actors to ITW each year. Cast members Colin Henke, 14, and Jake Sudarsky, 21, have been a part of past productions and see themselves returning for future shows. Colin praised the “welcoming, warm environment” and the “mix of talent” the production company attracts. Zachary Mathias, who drew Ms. Fierro’s praise on night one of rehearsals, has been in three ITW productions, and echoed these sentiments, saying “it’s fun meeting everyone.”

“ITW really is community theatre at its finest,” Mr. Ryan said. “These people are amazing. We have school teachers, professors, former directors, dancers, and they all bring something to the table that makes it so special, so homegrown that we just want people to come out and see it.”

Mr. Ryan is no exception to this sentiment.

“He is just the perfect balance of being absolutely in charge but being so respectful and so approachable,” Ms. Friedman said. “Kind of like a loving parent. I would say that what’s so special about this, is that like in almost any organization on the Island almost everybody knows each other, so we really do feel like a family. He’s the patriarch of the family.”

The King and I opens at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, August 22 and runs through Sunday, August 30 with no show on Wednesday, August 26. For tickets and more information visit and