Valerie Lau-Kee Lai

I was home for winter break from college, when my friend called to say that there was an audition for the National Tour of The King & I, and I should go. The chances were so remote, that I had no qualms and no fears of success or failure. Too inexperienced to have any fear, I headed off to an audition at the Minskoff Rehearsal Studios where the sheer strength of ignorance carried me through the unfamiliar Robbins/Graham choreography to a callback.

It was the callback that was so iconic. Like a scene from a movie, we stood in a row upstage of a ghost light in what I vaguely recall was the Barrymore. I had heard that Yul Brynner was going to be there, but I couldn’t tell what was on the other side of the ghost light in the darkened house.

I thought I heard instructions for each of us to step forward, and then twenty minutes later we emerged back into the light of day. Two days later I was calling my roommates Holly and Ann (Harada) to try and put things into storage as I was about to start rehearsal in two weeks to go out on the road. It was the start of the third final farewell tour of The King & I with Yul Brynner and the fabulous Mary Beth Peil.

My first tour brought a love of technical theatre, and I was on track for graduate school in Lighting Design/Stage Management. This was delayed by several contracts as a performer until Susan Stroman remembered my aspiration and asked me to be a dance captain/SM for The World Goes ‘Round. Quality of dancing aside, I found my true milieu, and began as a stage manager on COST, Off-Broadway and Production Contract with that show alone. As a stage manager, my volunteer work with Broadway Cares has allowed me to network and meet so many wonderful stage managers in this industry and learn with and from them. I am presently the Producing Director for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It gives me great joy to know that the gifts we have, can be brought to make our world a better place. Even as Producing Director, I continue to be involved with this community, which so strongly forms the base of how this community charitably gives of their gifts.