One town in the south of the county has maintained a very credible reputation throughout the years for its musicals and amateur theatricals and next week will see two members of one family carrying on a long family tradition when they take to the stage in the Abbey Centre on Tuesday next.
In 1979 “The King and I” was staged in Ballyshannon with the lead being played by well known businessman John Keon who for many years was closely associated with the successful Donegal Creameries as Managing Director.
On Tuesday next (26th) John’s son, Donagh will step into his father’s footsteps taking on the challenging role of the King of Siam where after many years absence from the stage, he hopes to live up to his family’s great musical tradition.
The King and I is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and is based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, which derives from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens. The musical’s plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King’s drive to modernize his country.
The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love that neither can admit.
Speaking to the Donegal Democrat John Keon recalls the early days of 1979 where he played the role of The King on the stage of the Mercy Hall, “I’m afraid I wasn’t the only Keon involved in that production - it was very much a family affair. My own children - Colm, Diarmaid, Donagh, Ciaran and Emer all took the parts of the King’s children which made things that little bit easier as I could exercise some control over them!”
John added that even though it was 44 years ago it was a highly professional production. “We rehearsed for months and had Kevin Byrne who was well known in Dublin theatre circles as producer and the very talented Nanette Eivers in the lead part of Lady Anna.
It really was a whole community effort with many of the local ladies carefully creating the costumes and both the late Fr. Lawerence and Sister Concepta looking after the musical arrangements.
“In fact the drummer 44 years ago was Tom Gallagher who will also fill the same role next week!”
Both John and his wife Margaret are no strangers to the stage having participated in many amateur dramas and musicals throughout the years in Ballyshannon.
John continued “I’ll have to admit I got great enjoyment out of this particular role - I had a whole rake of wives in my role as King around the town and there is at least 13 or 14 still around that I can still lay claim to!
“I’ll have to admit that I’m proud to see Donagh stepping into this role nearly half a century later and indeed his daughter and my grandchild, Sarah Jane taking part as a Royal Princess - it is going to revive a lot of very pleasant memories.”
Donagh Keon who is also involved in the dairy industry and well known in business circles in the Erneside town, is delighted, if not somewhat nervous about taking on the role that his father played all those years ago.
He said, “It is a great challenge and I am really thrilled for Sarah Jane who is playing a Royal Princess - she is really so excited about it. With the exceptionally talented Jennifer Liston beside me as Lady Anna I think we can really exceed expectations.
“Back in 1979 I was only a toddler playing the role of a Royal Prince - my father kept us all on the right track. To be perfectly honest I have been on the stage very little since so I am sure that many might be surprised and pleasantly so when they see me in this role.
“I did take part in a few Fleadh Ceoils and actually managed to win a few All Ireland medals - mind you I had a great teacher in Margaret McGinley, Sean’s mother, who made sure we knew all our p’s and q’s.
“Most people around the town would know me better for my involvement in business circles around the town - the Business Chamber, Backing Ballyshannon and The Gathering and I see this is an opportunity to further enhance Ballyshannon’s reputation as a centre of arts, culture and heritage.
“This will be relatively new to me but I have always welcomed a challenge and this is going to be something very different for me.”
Jokingly he added, “I am hoping that when it is all over people in the town will be paying their due respect to their king and bowing to me on the street.”
Keon continued, “We have now been up to seven weeks in rehearsal - and I can assure you there is a lot of work. Just like the early days there are costumes to be made, musical arrangements to be fine-tuned and a lot of children to be managed - the whole project involves a cast of over 50.
“The whole thing is really coincidental in many ways - the family connection throughout the years and then the fact that Sarah Jane is taking on the role at the age of nine - exactly the same age as I was when I took on the original role.
“I have a lot to live up to - I know that apart from the original production in 1979, it was also successfully produced in 1994 with Marian Fitzgerald and Connor Carney in the lead roles but I am quietly confident that both Jennifer Liston as Lady Anna will do this great production proud.
“We have been working with a really great bunch of professionals which makes everything that little bit easier - Maura Logue as our Director, Niamh Currid as Musical Director and the talented Suzanne Byrne as Choreographer.
The Booking office opens today from 1-4pm in the Abbey Arts Centre - telephone 07198 51375 and will be open daily from 1-4pm except Sunday until Saturday, 2nd March.
There are some exceptional offers on tickets which should afford everybody the opportunity to catch this impressive show:
Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th Feb - ALL TICKETS 10 euro.
Thursday 28th Feb Adult 15 euro child/student/senior citizen 10 euro.
Friday 1st and Saturday night, 2nd March, ALL TICKETS 15 euro.
Saturday, 2nd March, Matinee, Adult 10 euro Child 8 euro.
Special group offers are also available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday only with one ticket free with every 20 purchased.