Sam Simahk: The King and I
Lyric Opera’s grand-scale production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I runs through May 22. Meet the talented Sam Simahk who plays the role of Lun Tha.
WHAT'S YOUR PERSONAL STORY?
I was born and raised in Ashburnham, Massachusetts—a very small town in a very rural part of the state. We were in a small, two-hundred-year-old farmhouse, right on the edge of the woods; my parents still live there, and I go back to escape the hustle and bustle of city-living whenever I get the chance. My parents say that I was singing before I could talk, so they enrolled me in a summer drama camp as soon as I was old enough…thereby sealing my fate. By the time I was in high school, I was driving my beat-up Chevy between classes, high school musical rehearsals, community theatre productions, and anything else I could get my theatre-bug-bitten hands on. The summer after my junior year, I did my first professional show: a production of Grease (I played Eugene—the role of the nerd was and will forever be in my proverbial wheelhouse). At that point I started applying to colleges, and ended up going to my school of choice, Boston’s Emerson College, where I got my degree in Musical Theatre. After graduation, I moved to NYC and have been there (albeit for theatre jobs that take me out of the city) ever since.
WHAT'S YOUR CHARACTER STORY IN "KING & I"?
I play Lun Tha, a young, romantic Burmese scholar. His lover, Tuptim—played by the brilliantly talented Ali Ewoldt—has been given to the King of Siam as a gift from the Prince of Burma. Burma and Siam have been in and out of war with each other for decades, and Tuptim’s presentation is something of an olive branch. The couple’s romance should really end there, but they’re young and in love, and as a result they continue seeing each other in secret, which is incredibly dangerous—if they’re caught, they’ll both be killed.
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES YOUR CHARACTER FACE TELLING THIS STORY?
There’s no shortage of challenges for Lun Tha—from the start of the play, he’s in enemy territory, more or less. Even though their nations are at peace, the Siamese still don’t like the Burmese, so he’s all alone. More importantly, however, the woman he loves is a concubine in the king’s court—he can see her occasionally and very briefly, thanks to the help of Anna, but in doing so he risks both of their lives. Lastly, time is ticking; he’s only in Siam under the guise of copying the designs of Bangkok temples, and he’s been stalling for as long as he can. He’ll have to go back to Burma sooner rather than later, at which point he’ll lose Tuptim forever.
HOW DOES YOUR CHARACTER OVERCOME THOSE CHALLENGES?
Well, I can’t quite give away any spoilers now, can I? But let’s just say Lun Tha’s not a guy who goes down without a fight, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be with the woman he loves.
ANY LAST COMMENTS?
If you’re able to see this show, you should do so. The cast is incredible—Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban are perfectly paired as Anna and the King, and they’re a joy to watch onstage. Our director, Lee Blakeley, has taken this classic story and crafted a vision that’s grounded and human; he’s collected our efforts into focusing on the king’s intellect and his desire to steer Siam’s progress into the future, and in doing so he and Paolo have truly humanized the character. Lastly, between the gorgeous sets, the stunning costumes, and the larger-than-life orchestra, this production is not one to be missed. Hope to see you there!