Sam Simahk: The King and I

May 2, 2016

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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Mia Park
Mia Park shares her passion of discovery through teaching yoga and acting. Currently studying acupuncture and Chinese medicine, Mia is also a producer, writer, motivator, and celebrator of life. Mia has lived in Chicago for over twenty years and calls this city that works her home.

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Free tickets can be reserved on October 27, 2017 at noon at the box office, by calling 773-325-7900, or emailing Press Opening is Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 7:30 PM. **Preview is Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 7:30 PM. The House of Bernarda Alba will be performed in Room 403 of The Theatre School at DePaul University at 2350 N Racine Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 What's your personal story? I grew up in Tucson, Arizona as one of very few Chinese Americans in my neighborhood. I remember that my sister and I were the only Chinese kids in my whole elementary school. However, my family attended a Chinese church in downtown Tucson, and I also attended Tucson Chinese School where I learned to read and write Mandarin Chinese. I’m very thankful for the persistence that my parents had to have my sister and me grow up learning Chinese and holding on to our ethnic culture. However, growing up, I felt like I was never fully Chinese nor fully American. I didn’t feel the need to blend in with the other kids, but I also desired to connect better with others. An opportunity came up in kindergarten when the entire grade put on a show for the whole school. This was the first time that I felt like I was part of a team, part of a larger group effort to create something fun and beautiful. I remember that year, our production was called ‘To the Future and Beyond,’ and I sang the final solo of the show. In middle school and high school, I continued to take drama classes whenever possible. I loved learning about the lives of people so different from me, memorizing my lines, and sharing those stories with audiences. In college at Duke University, I decided to major in Psychology and Theater Studies, and also performed in three of the Theater Department’s Mainstage shows. Currently, I’m in my second year of my MFA in Acting program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. What's your character's story in "The House of Bernarda Alba”? My character’s name is Angustias, which means anguish or distress. She is the eldest unmarried daughter of Bernarda Alba and is already 39. Angustias is the sole daughter of Bernarda Alba’s former husband, while the rest of her sisters are the daughters of Antonio Maria Benavides, the man they are all mourning at the top of the show. Angustias’ father was rich, so when Antonio Maria Benavides dies and the property must be divided, Angustias’ share of the estate is much larger than that of her sisters. This wealth that Angustias has is then attractive to Pepe, who is trying to marry her, and while Angustias truly believes that he loves her for her, she really just wants to be loved and free from the oppression and alienation she feels within the walls of Bernarda’s house. What challenges does your character face telling this story? Angustias is constantly struggling with the antagonistic energy she receives from her sisters. 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Angustias overcomes her challenges of alienation towards the end of the play when she risks being judged by her mother and sisters by being more vulnerable, and seeking to find the truth, even if she gets hurt in the end. Any other comments? I hope that this play helps audience members to be thankful for the people in life who love them, to hold them close, and to try to understand each other instead of being blinded by individual desires. Why not work together? Why not be a team and create something beautiful? Life is too short not to make the most of it every day. Thank you so much for your time!
Mia Park