For Jose Llana, you might say that touring in the role of the King in the current production of The King and I represents a Broadway career coming full circle. His first major role was as the young lover in the revival some 20 years ago and now he's playing the lead as the musical crisscrosses the country.
The show hits The Hobby Center on March 14-19. We asked Llana about touring life and what it's like acting in a play with themes that seem very relevant today.
What made you want to go into acting?
I was born in the Philippines and I like to joke that Filipinos are all born with a karaoke mic in their hand. I grew up singing Beatles songs with my father and caught the acting bug seeing turning productions in Washington D.C. where I grew up. I performed in musicals throughout high school and went to school in New York. My first show was acting the 1996 revival of The King and I. And now I get to play the King and maybe inspire other young kids the way touring productions inspired me.
What is your favorite part of this production?
This production is for this 2017 world we are living in. The sets are gorgeous and the cast is great but my favorite aspect has always been with the kids. We tour with about a dozen children under the age of 15 and they have all become my little surrogate kids — on and off the stage — which keeps things fun. It’s much like a family.
And not to get political, but this show gave me a new appreciation for touring. We are touring the country with a show about two cultures learning to get along, and how at first they think they have nothing in common yet come to find out they have everything in common. They have love in common. And it’s great for the kids to show them the different parts of the country and show them great cities like D.C. and Houston.
What is it like to be an out gay actor traveling around the country right now?
I’m very proud to be a out actor playing a straight leader. I very randomly met the mayor of Seattle not too long ago. And a few days later I got a note from him and his husband welcoming me and the company to the city. It was really nice and the thanked me for being an out actor, and mentioned how good it is for children to see another out professional. I think that is the best thing about touring.
Have you ever been to Houston and if so what are most looking forward to visiting or experiencing while here?
I was there in 2011 we went to Jackson Street Barbecue that was really good. But I will say, the Houston warmth will be a very nice welcome. I think everyone will be happy to not have to wear a parka anymore.
Lastly, what is your favorite karaoke song? You mentioned it so I have to ask.
I tend to not do it anymore to preserve my voice, but my go-to songs are always George Michael or Billy Joel. And if I’ve had too much to drink I try to belt out some Whitney Houston.