With role in ‘The King and I,’ a mixed-race actress tries to finds her way

With role in ‘The King and I,’ a mixed-race actress tries to finds her way

The Star Tribune

Rebecca Ritzel, Theater critic

Matthew Murphy
Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I.

Manna Nichols was still a student at Oklahoma City University when she was cast by a major American theater in a major musical- theater role.

That was four years ago, at Washington’s Arena Stage, and Nichols was playing Eliza Doolittle opposite the great Canadian actor Benedict Campbell, son of former Guthrie Theatre artistic director Douglas Campbell.

As a mixed-race actor of Chinese, Caucasian and American Indian descent, Nichols was thrilled to land a role that would typically go to a white woman. For better or worse, she’s since become a go-to actor for Asian-specific roles. In 2013, she played Kim in a touring “Miss Saigon” that drew protests at Ordway Center, and last summer she took on the part of Liat in the Guthrie staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

Next week, Nichols returns to the Twin Cities in another canonical Asian role: She’s Tuptim, the King of Siam’s reluctant junior wife in the Lincoln Center touring production of “The King and I.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 musical about a spunky 19th-century English teacher who disrupts the Siamese court opens Tuesday at the Orpheum in Minneapolis.

Nichols talked about what she has faced when it comes to race and casting, why she tried out for this show, which won a 2015 Tony for best revival, and what was special about the Guthrie’s “South Pacific.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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