Musical Theatre Time Machine - Looking Back at The King and I
With the recent closing of the Lincoln Center production of The King and I, I thought it would be an appropriate tribute to this lovely production to look back on this oft-revived musical.
Rodgers and Hammerstein had just enjoyed another major success with the Pulitzer Prize-winning South Pacific and set about the find a new property for musicalization. Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam would be their source. Based on a true story, the novel told the story of a British governess brought to the royal palace of the King of Siam to teach his wives and children in the Western philosophies and contemporary thought. The musical followed the complicated professional relationship between the monarch and his new employee (and perhaps friend), and their struggle to find a middle ground where tradition and change could coexist.
Here are some interesting facts about The King and I.
1. The King and I opened at Broadway's St. James Theatre (The current home of Something Rotten!) on March 28, 1951 where it ran 1,246 performances.
2. The production's original Anna, Gertrude Lawrence, was ill during the show's run (cancer) and she died. One of her final wishes was the be buried in her "Shall We Dance?" ball gown. Her wish was granted.
3. Many revered actresses have played Anna Leanowens over the years including Lawrence, Angela Lansbury, Mary Beth Peil, Constance Towers, Faith Prince, Donna Murphy, Rise Stevens, Kelli O'Hara, Hayley Mills, Patricia Morison, Eileen Brenban, Celeste Holm, Sally Ann Howes, Barbara Cook, Deborah Kerr and Marin Mazzie among them.
4. Though Rex Harrison was initially sought for the part, it would be Yul Brynner who would put his indelible stamp on the role of King Mongkut. Brynner played "The King" for 4,625 performances. He won a Supporting Actor Tony for his performance. He reprised the role in the film version and won an Oscar for Best Actor.