When Elena Shaddow first saw Deborah Kerr alongside Yul Brynner in the Hollywood film classic, "The King and I," she never imagined she might herself one day be playing Anna.
"I remember watching it on Turner Classic Movies with my parents when I was a kid, and I was way too young to see myself in that role," said Shaddow, who plays Anna in the national touring production of the classic 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical coming to Proctors next Tuesday for eight performances in six days. "I loved watching Deborah Kerr, but I thought of Anna as such a grown-up role. Now, well, it's fun to be able to play her."
The mother of a 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, Shaddow has nearly two decades of experience as a professional actor on stage, beginning with the role of Cosette in "Les Miserables" on Broadway in 1999. Her most recent Broadway gig was in 2015 as Ottilie in "The Visit" with Chita Rivera and Roger Rees, and she also originated the role of Francesca in "The Bridges of Madison County" at Willilamstown Theatre Festival in 2014. When the show moved to Broadway later in the year, Shaddow served as the standby for Kelli O'Hara.
While she's been busy raising a family lately, she did find the time to star as Marion Paroo in a 2016 production of "The Music Man" at St. Louis's Forest Park, an outdoor venue which seats 11,000.
Her reviews were outstanding. According to Mark Bretz, a critic for the Ladue News, "Shaddow's Marian is smart and sensible," and "she has the production's best voice."
While the national tour of "The King and I" has been up and running for over a year, Shaddow just took over the role of Anna, the English schoolteacher hired to mentor the children of the King of Siam in 1860s Bangkok. Her debut was on March 20 in Tempe, Arizona.
"Looking and sounding practically perfect, with her red hair and a clipped English accent, Shaddow couldn't help but evoke a pleasing memory of how Deborah Kerr appeared in the 1956 film, only better," said long-time Phoenix area critic David Appleford. "Unlike the famous Hollywood actress whose songs were dubbed by Marni Nixon, the clarity of Shaddow's voice is all hers, and it's a pleasure to hear."
Shaddow has been getting reviews like that for quite some time now. Her other Broadway credits include "Sweet Smell of Success," "Nine," "Fiddler on the Roof," "The Woman in White" and "La Cage aux Folles," and at the regional level she has portrayed Eliza in "My Fair Lady" at the North Carolina Theatre and Maria in "West Side Story" at the North Shore Music Theatre just outside of Boston.
She also has done some television and film work, and played Sister Sophia in NBC's 2013 live production of "The Sound of Music" with Carrie Underwood.
"NBC was the first to start doing that again, to do a live musical on TV, and we all felt like were were part of a pioneering group of actors," said Shaddow. "It was a lot of fun, and at times nerve-wracking because we were doing it live in front of the entire country. It was great to be in something that was so ground-breaking like that."
Shaddow grew up just outside of Cleveland with three siblings and a set of loving parents who didn't have a whole lot of time to take her to the theater. They did, however, set her down in front of a piano.
"I started out playing the piano, so I really didn't get into acting until I was a bit older," she said. "But my parents did sign me up for classes at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and that's what really got me started."
After graduating from high School, Shaddow went to New York University and landed her Broadway gig in "Les Mis," playing in the ensemble and as Cosette, giving her the opportunity to demonstrate her wonderful voice in songs such as "A Heart Full of Love" and "One Day More."
"I was a senior at the time and living in my dorm at NYU," remembered Shaddow. "I was living downtown in the Village and would hop on the subway to midtown for my first Broadway show. Then I'd come back to my dorm and eat pizza. It was surreal. But to be on that stage for the first time, singing that score, was humbling and overwhelming."
When this tour of "The King and I" winds up later this summer, Shaddow will return to her Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey home and focus on her own acting school, the Theater Arts Project. Her husband, Michael Harrington, is the managing director of Theatreworks USA, a traveling troupe designed to provide access to professional theater for young and family audiences nationwide.
"Being a mom is always my job, but after this tour is over I'll go back to my own school which I run in the fall, and that involves a lot of teaching classes and doing workshops, and then I probably go back to auditioning," said Shaddow. "The great thing about going to Schenectady is that I can be home and then just drive there, and I have a lot of friends who are coming from New Jersey to see the show. I'm looking forward to that."
Playing opposite Shaddow is Jose Llana as the King of Siam. When the show first premiered on Broadway in 1951 it went on to win five Tony's, including Best Musical. Brynner also played the King on Broadway and won a Tony, as did Gertrude Lawrence for her portrayal of Anna.
"There are so many things to like about the show," said Shaddow. "I love the story, I love the message, and there really are several messages in the show. And the music is extraordinary."
'The King and I'
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $107.50-$20
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204, or visit www.proctors.org