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updated: 7/21/2011 3:06 PM

Marmion alum returns to the stage in 'The King and I'

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  • Joe Rigaud stages a scene from "The King and I" during festivities at last weekend's Downtown Alive. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical hits the Paramount Theatre in Aurora for four shows this weekend.

      Joe Rigaud stages a scene from "The King and I" during festivities at last weekend's Downtown Alive. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical hits the Paramount Theatre in Aurora for four shows this weekend.
    Courtesy of Fox Valley Park District

  • Joe Rigaud plays the King and Stephanie Leo is Anna in the Fox Valley Park District's Summer Stage production of "The King and I," which hits the Paramount Theatre for four shows today through Sunday.

      Joe Rigaud plays the King and Stephanie Leo is Anna in the Fox Valley Park District's Summer Stage production of "The King and I," which hits the Paramount Theatre for four shows today through Sunday.
    Courtesy of Fox Valley Park District

 
By Jeff Long
Fox Valley Park District

Joe Rigaud stepped off the stage in 1993, figuring his role as Jim in "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" would be the last of his acting "career."

A high school senior, Rigaud was headed to college on a track scholarship with a future to pursue.

So 18 years later, the casting call -- which was actually a phone call -- came as an out-of-the-blue surprise.

"She said I would make a great King," Rigaud said.

"She" is Arlene Hawks, the director for this weekend's upcoming performances of "The King and I," which will be staged at the Paramount Theatre at 7 p.m. today, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 22-24.

Saturday's shows will feature a cameo appearance by Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner.

The connection dates back to Rigaud's senior year at Marmion Academy, when Hawks directed "Big River" and Rigaud shared the stage with Hawks' son, Victor, who played Huckleberry Finn.

Hawks' premonition was correct; Rigaud sailed through the auditions. With his Yul Brynner looks and his animated stage presence, Rigaud was a natural fit as King Mongkut in this famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set in Bangkok in the early 1860s.

Once he conquered his initial nervousness and a couple of "what-am-I-doing-here?" moments, Rigaud dove into the role, researching "The King and I" and learning as much as he could about the character he was to become.

It quickly became a reawakening, too.

"After a few rehearsals, it all came back," said Rigaud, fitness director at The Holmstad retirement community in Batavia. "My love for acting and performing never went away. It's just been great; I'm so glad to be back on the stage."

Stephanie Leo of Aurora plays Rigaud's dueling lead role as Anna, an adventurous schoolteacher from Britain hired to serve as governess and tutor to King Mongkut's many children. Anna and the King have many quarrels, and their cultural differences become more apparent as the play develops. But they eventually fall in love, and Anna's influence on the King helps democratize the country.

Leo is a fifth-grade teacher at Fearn Elementary School in Aurora, so her role in "The King and I" is an extension of real life, and it shows -- in a good way.

"There are some scenes where Anna gives the King that 'teacher look,' and let me tell you, she knows how to give that look!" Rigaud said. "I almost feel guilty, like I've been a bad student."

Rigaud will get plenty of good looks this weekend from the crowd. What started as a fan bus originating from Rigaud's workplace has grown to three bus loads and even more car pools, with an estimated 85 Holmstad residents planning to take in the show at the Paramount.

"They -- and everybody who attends this weekend -- will be treated to a great show and a great story," Rigaud said. "We've put a lot of hard work and sweat into this production. It's going to be nice to see it come to life under the lights when that curtain opens."

For tickets to "The King and I," visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org to order online or call the Paramount Theatre box office at (630) 896-6666.

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