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Saenz brothers get taste of royalty on stage
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Ceres brothers Caleb Saenz and Noah Saenz are acting the part - in royal fashion.

Sierra Repertory Theatre has tapped the brothers to act, sing and dance as royal children in the stage production of "The King and I."

The sons of Robert and Melanie Saenz of Ceres, are among 14 children playing as the royal children in the professional play's 52-show run in East Sonora through April 6.

"They love it," noted their mother. "They love to perform. They've been performing since they were little. They light up. They absolutely love it."

Caleb and Noah have small speaking roles in the play and are also paid through Actors Equity Guild.

"They're usually in two or three things a year," said Melanie Saenz.

Caleb is now a second-grader and Noah was recently moved up to fifth grade and GATE. They are home schooled through Hickman Charter School so they have more time to pursue stage.

The boys started dancing at Steps Dance Studio in Ceres when Caleb was two and Noah was three. They learned tap dancing lessons at Hooked on Taps in Hughson until owner Joyce Larazzano of Hughson closed shop due to illness. They've since studied at Juline's School of Dance in Modesto where they take ballet, tap and break dancing lessons.

Caleb started dancing through Steps' "Mommy & Me" program at age 2. While at Steps he enjoyed roles in "Swan Lake," "Annie" and "Beauty and the Beast." His starring roles there included Max the Dog in "The Grinch" and Apu the Monkey in "Aladdin." He has danced in Central West Ballet's The Nutcracker. When he isn't dancing Caleb enjoys basketball, horseback riding, gymnastics and swimming.

Noah, 10, first got a taste of acting when he was selected to appear in a Hooked on Phonics commercial shot in San Jose. He has taken dance since he was 3, starting at Steps Dance Arts Studio in Ceres. Noah narrated "The Grinch," and had roles in "Annie," "Beauty and the Beast," "Swan Lake" and "Aladdin." With Central West Ballet he had roles in "The Nutcraker" and read an original piece in "Arts and Harmony.

At 7 he switched over to Juline's school of Dance because it was affiliated with Central West Ballet which is taught by professional ballet dancers.

With YES Company he had roles in Guys and Dolls and Seussical the Musical.

At Hooked on Tap Noah had the opportunity to meet and tap with legends Sam Webber and Greg Russell as well as take home many first place trophies from his numerous competitions. When he isn't dancing Noah's other hobbies include basketball, gymnastics, and swimming.

Melanie has been unable to actually watch her sons on the Sonora stage because she now fills in back stage to supervise all children in the musical.

"The first week of the performance they (SRT) lost their child wrangler. She moved to San Francisco. So they hired me to fill in."

Scott Viets, the show's director and choreographer, told Melanie that her children are already professionals.

"Most of the kids up there it's their first time on stage and they don't know their cues. My boys have been trained since they were young so they're disciplined. Scott says they are very professional."

Melanie Saenz is unsure where her sons acquired a desire to dance.

"I've never danced. They're boys - I never thought boys danced. But we're the kind of parents who said they could pursue what they want."

One night the family was watching the Nutcracker on PBS-TV and Noah announced to his parents, "I want to do that." Melanie replied, "Boys don't dance" but her husband piped up, "Boys do too dance!"

Being male in the local dance studio earned him "so much attention. From there it just kind of snowballed."

Caleb wanted to take ballet, too, because of his brother.

While the driving back and forth can get old, Melanie said she enjoys the experience. It beats where she was four years ago. A victim of multiple sclerosis (MS) Melanie was paralyzed for a year, depending on others to feed and care for her. Through medication and physical therapy, she slowly got better but still must take care that strain doesn't take her backward.

That's a consideration in how far she will let her boys pursue acting.

"I let them go day by day."

The King and I, the stunning American classic by Rodgers and Hammerstein, is the timeless love story between the powerful and stubborn King Mongkut of Siam and a determined Welsh governess named Anna. Full of complex characters and layered love stories, the Rodgers and Hammerstein score brings the meeting of cultures to life through haunting ballads, tender love songs and triumphant marches full of exotic flavor.

Director/Choreographer Scott Viets is excited about the cultural flavor The King and I will bring to the region.

"It gives audiences a chance to visit an unfamiliar world. To get a glimpse of what life might have been like in Siam circa 1865 is very appealing because it's so outside of our own culture now or then," says Viets. "It's also very opulent and grand and we're very excited about bringing this pageantry to life on stage."

The musical opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre in 1951 and starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, and a then mostly unknown Yul Brynner as the King.

The story, based on historical events, centers on widower Anna Leonowens (leading Southern California artist Victoria Strong), a British tutor hired by King Mongkut of Siam (New Yorker Jared Lee) to teach his children English in an effort to modernize Siam. Cultures clash between East and West, creating a powerful struggle within the King as he balances his desire to honor tradition yet embrace progress, as well his love and duty to his family and his country. Interwoven are some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most unforgettable tunes, including "Getting to Know You," "Shall We Dance," and the magical "Hello Young Lovers."

Viets said he felt it was important to have a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic cast to inhabit Siam, adding another layer of culture. The show boasts the largest cast ever assembled on an SRT stage - 37.

"I deliberately went bigger with the cast because we'd like to try to truly present theatrically the enormous scale of King Mongkut's world," said Viets. "In actuality, King Mongkut had 82 children and 39 wives in his lifetime. On stage we'll have 14 children and eight wives...and believe me, that's an extraordinary number for even the largest of theatres."

The King and I runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $18 to $28 with discounts for students and seniors. Tickets are $18 - $28; Seniors receive $2 off (except Wednesday); tickets for children 17 and under are $15 - the play is G-rated - and students 18 and over with ID are $18 anytime.

The theater is located 13891 Mono Way, Sonora, (above the Junction Shopping Center). For more information or reservations, call Sierra Rep's box office at (209) 532-3120 or visit Sierra Rep online at