|The King and I|
Poster for the original Broadway production
|Lyrics||Oscar Hammerstein II|
|Book||Oscar Hammerstein II|
|Basis||Novel by Margaret Landon |
Anna and the King of Siam
|Productions||1951 Broadway |
1953 West End
1973 West End revival
1977 Broadway revival
1979 West End revival
1981 U.S tour
1985 Broadway revival
1996 Broadway revival
2000 West End revival
2004 U.S. tour
|Awards|| 1952 Tony Award for Best Musical |
1996 Tony Award for Best Revival
In 1950, theatrical attorney Fanny Holtzmann was looking for a part for her client, veteran leading lady Gertrude Lawrence. Holtzmann realized that Landon's book would be an ideal vehicle and contacted Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were initially reluctant, but who agreed to write the musical. The pair initially sought Rex Harrison to play the supporting part of the King—he had played the role in the 1946 movie made from Landon's book—but Harrison was unavailable. They settled on Russian-American actor Yul Brynner.
The musical was an immediate hit, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress (for Lawrence) and Best Featured Actor (for Brynner). Lawrence died unexpectedly of cancer a year and a half after the opening, and the role of Anna was played by other actresses during the remainder of the Broadway run of over three years (1,246 performances). A national tour and a hit London run followed, together with a 1956 film for which Brynner won an Academy Award. More successful revivals followed. In the early 1980s, Brynner starred in an extended national tour of the musical, culminating with a 1985 Broadway run, shortly before his death. The King and I saw another Broadway revival in 1996, with Lou Diamond Phillips as the King and Donna Murphy as Anna, and a 2000 London production.
 Historical backgroundMongkut, King of Siam, wrote to his Singapore agent, Tan Kim Ching, asking him to find a British lady to be governess to the royal children. At the time, the British community in Singapore was small, and the choice fell on a recent arrival there, Anna Leonowens, who was running a small nursery school in the colony. Leonowens was the Eurasian daughter of an Indian Army soldier and widow of a clerk and hotel keeper—she had arrived in Singapore two years previously, claiming to be the genteel widow of an officer and explaining her dark appearance by stating she was Welsh by birth. Her imposture was not detected in her lifetime.
Leonowens sent her daughter, Avis, off to school in England, in the hope that her daughter would become the lady her mother pretended to be, and embarked for Bangkok with her five-year-old son, Louis, aboard the Chao Prya, commanded by Captain Orton. King Mongkut had sought an English lady to teach his children after he had tried local missionaries, who used the opportunity to proselytize. Leonowens initially asked for $150 in Singapore currency per month. Another request by Leonowens, that she live in or near the missionary community for Western company, aroused suspicion in Mongkut, who noted in a letter, "we need not have teacher of Christianity as they are abundant here". King Mongkut and Leonowens came to an agreement—$100 per month and a residence near the royal palace. At a time when the streets of Bangkok were canals, Mongkut did not wish to have to arrange for the teacher's transport every day. The Leonowens family temporarily lived as guests of Mongkut's prime minister, and after the first house offered was found to be unsuitable, the family moved into a brick residence (wooden structures decayed quickly in Bangkok's climate) on the same side of the river as the palace, and within walking distance.
King Mongkut himself was aged about 57 in 1861. He had lived half his life as a Buddhist monk and had proved an able scholar, founding a new order of Buddhism and a temple in Bangkok (paid for by his half-brother, King Jessadabodindra). When Jessadabodindra died in 1850, Mongkut became king. Through his decades of devotion, Mongkut had acquired an ascetic lifestyle and a firm grasp of Western languages. Mongkut came to the throne at a time when various European countries, as well as American traders, were striving for dominance in Southeast Asia, and his plans (ultimately successful) to keep Siam an independent nation involved familiarizing his heirs and harem with Western ways.
 InceptionGertrude Lawrence's business manager and attorney, Fanny Holtzmann, was looking for a new property for her client, when the 1944 Margaret Landon book Anna and the King of Siam (a fictionalized version of Leonowens' experiences) was sent to her by Landon's William Morris agent. According to Rodgers biographer Meryle Secrest, Holtzmann was worried that Lawrence's career was fading. In any case, Lawrence had appeared in plays rather than musicals since Lady in the Dark closed in 1943. Holtzmann agreed that a musical based on Anna and the King of Siam would be ideal for Lawrence. Lawrence purchased the rights to adapt the book for the stage. Holtzmann initially wanted Cole Porter to write the score, but he refused. Holtzmann was going to approach Noël Coward next, but happened to meet Dorothy Hammerstein (Oscar's wife) in Manhattan. Holtzmann told Dorothy Hammerstein that she wanted Rodgers and Hammerstein to do a show for Lawrence, and to see that her husband read a book that Holtzmann would send over. Both Dorothy Rodgers and Dorothy Hammerstein were under instructions to pass along all such messages to their husbands, and Dorothy Hammerstein did so. In fact, both wives had read the book in 1944, and had urged their husbands to consider it as a possible subject for a musical.
Rodgers and Hammerstein had disliked Landon's book as a basis for a musical when it was published, and their views still held. Landon's book consists of episodes, showing vignettes of life at the Siamese court, along with descriptions of historical events. The episodes in the book are unconnected, except that the King creates most of the difficulties featured in the vignettes, and Anna tries to resolve them. They could see no coherent story from which a musical could be made. Their view changed when they saw the 1946 film adaptation, starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, and saw how the screenplay had united the episodes in the book. They became more interested in the idea of writing a musical adaptation. However, the pair was concerned about Lawrence herself. They had rarely used theatrical stars in their joint works; they preferred to make stars rather than hire them, and hiring the legendary Gertrude Lawrence would be expensive. Another concern was Lawrence's voice: she had never had a great vocal range, and it was diminishing with the years. Becoming more pronounced, on the other hand, was a tendency to sing flat. Lawrence's temperament was another concern: though she could not sing like one, the star was fully capable of diva-like behavior. However, they admired her acting and stage presence—what Hammerstein called her "magic light", causing her to be a compelling force onstage, and they agreed to write the show. For her part, Lawrence agreed to remain in the show until June 1, 1953, and waived the star's usual veto rights over cast and director, leaving control in the hands of the two authors.
Hammerstein found his "door in" to the play in Landon's account of a slave in Siam writing about Abraham Lincoln. This would eventually become the narrated dance, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas". Since any romantic feelings between the King and Anna could not be acknowledged in song, Hammerstein built up the secondary couple, Lun Tha and Tuptim. In the Landon book, the relationship is between Tuptim and a priest, and is not romantic. The most radical change from the book was to have the King die at the end of the play, although in a pre-rehearsal script, Hammerstein makes it unclear whether or not the King dies. In an interview for The New York Times, Hammerstein indicated that he had written the first scene before leaving for London and the West End production of Carousel in mid-1950; a second scene had been written in the British capital.
Hammerstein originally had a very different conception of the "Shall We Dance?" scene, though still touching on the unspoken love between the King and Anna, according to an early script:
Anna tries to explain the Western idea of the love of one man for one woman. It will introduce a new song, which will be Anna's attempt to describe a romantic love totally foreign to the King's idea of relations between man and woman. In his part of the song[,] his logical arguments against sentimental monogamy must be a difficult one for Anna to answer. She can only fall back on the fact that in the Western world, this thing which seems so foolish and impossible to him is happening every hour of the day, every day, and a man and a girl are falling in love, believing that they are the only people in the world for each other. At the end of the song, while he does not admit that he is convinced to any degree, it is apparent that he has found her very attractive and somehow can feel this illogical impulse himself, however vaguely.Both men had to overcome problems with how to properly represent Thai speech or music. Rodgers did not wish to use actual Thai music, which the audience might not like. Instead, he gave his music an exotic tone while avoiding actual Asian melodies. Rodgers had experimented with music for an Asian setting in his short-lived 1928 musical with Lorenz Hart, Chee-chee. Hammerstein needed to decide how to represent Thai language speech. He heard actual Thai speech while in London for the production of Carousel, and it sounded almost musical to him. He decided that when the characters were to speak in Thai, that speech would be conveyed by musical sounds, made by the orchestra. For the speech of the King, Hammerstein developed an abrupt, emphatic way of talking, which was free of articles, as are many Oriental languages. The forcefulness of the King's speech reflected his personality. The manner of speech was maintained even when the King sang, especially in his one solo number, "A Puzzlement". With Rodgers laid up with back trouble, Hammerstein completed most of the book before many songs were set to music.
Hammerstein immediately contacted set designer Jo Mielziner and costume designer Irene Sharaff and asked them to begin work in coordination with each other. Sharaff communicated with Jim Thompson, an American who had revived the Thai silk industry after World War II. Thompson sent Sharaff samples of silk cloth from Thailand and pictures of local dress from the mid-19th century. One such picture, of a Thai woman in western dress, inspired the song "Western People Funny", sung by the King's chief wife, Lady Thiang, while dressed in western garb. Producer Leland Hayward, who had worked with the duo on South Pacific, approached choreographer Jerome Robbins to arrange "The Small House of Uncle Thomas". Robbins was very enthusiastic about the project, and asked to choreograph the other musical numbers as well, which Rodgers and Hammerstein had thought unnecessary, as no other significant dancing was planned. Once hired, Robbins arranged "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" as an intimate performance, rather than a large production number. His choreography for the parade of the King's children to meet their teacher ("March of the Royal Siamese Children") drew great acclaim. Robert Russell Bennett provided the orchestrations, and Trude Rittman arranged the ballet music.
The pair had contemplated an Act 1 musical scene involving Anna and the King's wives. The song to put in that scene proved to be very difficult to write for Hammerstein. He felt Anna would tell the wives something about her past, and wrote such lyrics as "I was dazzled by the splendor/Of Calcutta and Bombay" and "The celebrities were many/And the parties very gay/(I recall a curry dinner/And a certain Major Grey)." Eventually, Hammerstein decided to write about how Anna felt, a song which would, in addition to explaining her past, serve as a bond with Tuptim and lay the groundwork for the conflict which eventually devastates her relationship with the King. "Hello, Young Lovers", the resultant song, was the work of five exhausting weeks for Hammerstein. He finally sent the lyric to Rodgers by messenger and awaited his reaction. No word came. Hammerstein considered the song his best work, and was anxious to hear what Rodgers thought of it, but still no comment came from Rodgers. Pride kept Hammerstein from asking. Finally, after four days, the two happened to be talking on the phone about other matters, and at the end of the conversation, Rodgers stated, very briefly, that the lyric was fine. Hammerstein's friend Josh Logan, who had worked with him on South Pacific, found the usually unflappable Hammerstein extremely upset, and the lyricist poured out his feelings to Logan, before suddenly stopping, one of the few times that Hammerstein and Rodgers did not display a united front.
 Casting and tryoutsNoël Coward. Alfred Drake, the original Curly in Oklahoma!, made contractual demands which were too high. With time running short before rehearsals, finding an actor to play the King became a major concern. Mary Martin, the original Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, suggested that her co-star in a 1946 production of Lute Song try for the role. Rodgers later recalled the audition of the Russian-American performer, Yul Brynner:
They told us the name of the first man and out he came with a bald head and sat cross-legged on the stage. He had a guitar and he hit his guitar one whack and gave out with this unearthly yell and sang some heathenish sort of thing, and Oscar and I looked at each other and said, "Well, that's it."Brynner, however, later termed Rodgers's account "very picturesque, but totally inaccurate". He related that as an established television director, he was reluctant to go back on the stage. Mary Martin, his wife and his agent finally convinced him to read Hammerstein's working script, and once he did, he was fascinated by the character of the King and was eager to do the project.
Pre-rehearsal preparations began in the autumn of 1950. Hammerstein had wanted Logan to direct and co-write the book, as he had for South Pacific, but when Logan declined, Hammerstein decided to write the entire book himself. Instead of Logan, the duo hired John van Druten, who had worked with Lawrence years earlier, to direct. Sharaff was quoted as saying, "The first-act finale of The King and I will feature Miss Lawrence, Mr. Brynner, and a pink satin ball gown." Mielziner's set plan was the simplest of the four Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals he had worked on, with one main set (the throne room), a number of front-stage drops (for the ship and Anna's room, for example) and the entire stage cleared for "The Small House of Uncle Thomas".
The show was budgeted at $250,000 (US$2,110,000 in 2011 dollars) making it the most expensive Rodgers and Hammerstein production to that point, and prompting some mocking that it exceeded even their expensive flop Allegro. Additional investors included Josh Logan, Mary Martin, Billy Rose and Leland Hayward. The children who were cast as the young princes and princesses, were from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, though none were Thai. Some of the young performers who were hired during the show's run were Puerto Rican or Italian. Johnny Stewart was the original Prince Chulalongkorn but left the cast after only three months, replaced by Ronnie Lee. Sandy Kennedy was Louis, and Larry Douglas played Lun Tha.
Shortly before rehearsals began in January 1951, Rodgers had the first Tuptim, Doretta Morrow, sing the entire score to Lawrence, including Lawrence's own songs. Lawrence listened calmly, but when meeting Rodgers and Hammerstein the following day, greeted the lyricist warmly, but cut Rodgers dead, apparently seeing the composer's actions as flaunting her vocal deficiencies. Nevertheless, Hammerstein and Rodgers's doubts about whether Lawrence could handle the part were assuaged by the sheer force of her acting. James Poling, a writer for Collier's who was allowed to attend the rehearsals, wrote of Lawrence practicing "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?":
She took the center of the barren stage wearing, for practice, a dirty muslin hoop over her slacks, with an old jacket thrown over her shoulders for warmth. She began rather quietly on the note, "Your servant! Your servant! Indeed I'm not your servant!" Then she gradually built the scene, slowly but powerfully, until, in a great crescendo, she ended prone on the floor, pounding in fury, and screaming, "Toads! Toads! Toads! All of your people are toads." When she finished, the handful of professionals in the theatre burst into admiring applause.At his first meeting with Sharaff, Brynner, who had only a fringe of hair, asked what he was to do about it. When told he was to shave it, Brynner was horror-struck and refused, convinced he would look terrible. He finally gave in during tryouts, and put dark makeup on his shaved head. The effect was so well-received that it became Brynner's trademark.
Lawrence's health caused her to miss several rehearsals, though no one seemed certain what was wrong with her. When tryouts opened in New Haven, Connecticut on February 27, 1951, the show was nearly four hours long. Lawrence, suffering from laryngitis, had missed the dress rehearsal, but managed to make it through the first public performance. The Variety critic noted that despite her recent illness she "slinks, acts, cavorts, and in general exhibits exceedingly well her several facets for entertaining", but the Philadelphia Bulletin review observed her "already thin voice is now starting to wear a great deal thinner". Leland Hayward came to see the show in New Haven and shocked Rodgers by advising him to close it before it went any further. Rodgers did not take Hayward's advice, but the show left New Haven for Boston for more tryout performances at least 45 minutes too long. Gemze de Lappe, who was one of the dancers, recalled one scene that she regretted was cut:
They took out a wonderful scene. Mrs. Anna's first entrance into the palace comes with a song in which she sings, "Over half a year I have been waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting outside your door." At the end she points her umbrella at him, or something like that, and the King says "Off with her head" or words to that effect, and the eunuchs pick her up and carry her off. The King says "Who, who, who?" with great satisfaction, and finds out that he has just thrown out the English schoolteacher. So he says, "Bring her back!" and she is ushered in ... we all loved it.The cut song, "Waiting", was a trio for Anna, the King, and the Kralahome. The Kralahome also lost his only solo, "Who Can Refuse?" Left without a note to sing, Mervyn Vye abandoned the show and was replaced by John Juliano. "Now You Leave", a song for Lady Thiang, created by Dorothy Sarnoff, was also cut. After the cuts, the duo felt that the first act was lacking something. Lawrence suggested that they write a song for her and the children. Mary Martin reminded them of a song that had been cut from South Pacific, "Suddenly Lucky".—its melody served for "Getting to Know You". "Western People Funny" and "I Have Dreamed" were also added in Boston.
 Act 1In Bangkok, Siam (later known as Thailand) in 1862, a strong-willed, widowed schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, arrives at the request of the King of Siam to tutor his many children. Anna's young son, Louis, fears the severe countenance of the King’s “Prime Minister” the Kralahome, but Anna refuses to be intimidated ("I Whistle A Happy Tune"). The Kralahome has come to escort them to the palace, where they are expected to live—a violation of Anna's contract, which calls for them to live in a separate house. She considers returning to Singapore aboard the vessel that brought them here, but leaves with her son and the Kralahome.
Several weeks pass, during which Anna and Louis are confined to their palace rooms. The King receives a gift from the king of Burma, a lovely slave girl named Tuptim, to be one of his many wives. She has been brought by Lun Tha, here to copy a design for a temple, and the two are deeply in love. Tuptim, left alone, declares that the King may own her, but he does not own her heart ("My Lord and Master"). The King gives Anna her first audience with him. The schoolteacher is a part of his plan for the modernization of Siam; he is impressed when she already knows this. She raises the issue of the house with him, he dismisses her protests and orders her to talk with his wives. They are interested in her, and she mentions her late husband, Tom ("Hello, Young Lovers"). The King presents her new pupils—Anna is to teach several dozen of his children whose mothers are in favor with the King. The princes and princesses enter in procession ("March of the Royal Siamese Children"). Anna is charmed by the children, and formality breaks down after the ceremony as they crowd around her.
Anna has not given up on the house, and teaches the children proverbs and songs extolling the virtues of the home life, to the King's irritation. The King has enough worries on his mind without the battle with the schoolteacher, and wonders why the world has become so complicated ("A Puzzlement"). The children and wives are hard at work learning English ("The Royal Bangkok Academy"). The children are surprised by a map showing how small Siam is compared with the rest of the world ("Getting to Know You"). There is disorder as the crown prince, Chulalongkorn, refuses to believe the map, and the King enters a chaotic schoolroom. He orders the pupils to believe the teacher but complains to Anna about her lessons about "home". Anna stands her ground and insists on the letter of her contract, threatening to leave Siam, much to the dismay of wives and children. The King orders her to obey as "my servant"; she repudiates the term and hurries away. The King dismisses school, uncertain of his next action, then also leaves. Lun Tha comes upon Tuptim, and they muse on the impossibility of their love ("We Kiss in a Shadow").
In her room, Anna replays the confrontation in her mind, her anger building ("Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?"). Lady Thiang, the King's head wife, tells Anna that the King is troubled by news that he is being portrayed as a barbarian to the British, who are being urged to take over Siam as a protectorate. Anna is shocked by the accusations—the King is a polygamist, but he is no barbarian—but she is reluctant to see him after their argument. Lady Thiang convinces her that the King is deserving of support ("Something Wonderful"). Anna goes to him and finds him anxious for reconciliation, to which she reluctantly agrees. The King tells her of the allegations and that the British are sending an envoy to Bangkok to evaluate the situation. Anna "guesses"—the only guise in which the King will accept advice—that the King will receive the envoy in European style, and that the wives will be dressed in Western fashion. Tuptim has been writing a play based on Uncle Tom's Cabin, that can be presented to the guests. The British are coming much sooner than thought, and so Anna and the wives stay up all night so everything is done on time. The King assembles his family for a Buddhist prayer for the success of the venture and acknowledges before Buddha that Anna will receive her own house.
 Act 2The wives, awaiting the British envoy, are dressed in European gowns, which they find confining ("Western People Funny"). In the rush to prepare, the question of undergarments has been overlooked, and the wives have practically nothing on underneath their gowns. When the British envoy, Sir Edward Ramsay, arrives and gazes at them through a monocle, they are panicked by the "evil eye" and lift their skirts over their heads as they flee. Sir Edward is diplomatic about the incident. When the King is called away, it develops that Sir Edward is an old flame of Anna's, and they dance in remembrance of old times, as Edward urges her to return to British society. The King returns and irritably reminds them that dancing is for after dinner.
As final preparations for the play are made, Tuptim steals a moment to meet with Lun Tha. He tells her he has an escape plan, and she should be ready to leave after the play ("I Have Dreamed"). Anna encounters them, and they confide in her ("Hello, Young Lovers", reprise). The play ("Small House of Uncle Thomas") is presented as a traditional-appearing Siamese dance. Tuptim is the narrator, and dramatizes the evil of King Simon of Legree and the efforts of the slave Eliza to gain her freedom from him. Eliza is saved by Buddha, who, after she has crossed miraculous ice pursued by King Simon, causes the ice to melt, drowning the slaveholding King. The anti-slavery message is clear.
After the play, Sir Edward reveals that the British threat has receded. The King, however, is distracted by the play and his displeasure at Tuptim. Sir Edward leaves, and Anna and the King express their delight at how well the evening went. He presents her with a ring. Secret police report that Tuptim is missing. The King realizes Anna knows something of this; she parries his inquiry by asking why he should care: Tuptim is just another woman to him. He is delighted; she is at last understanding the Siamese perspective. Anna tries to explain to him the Western way of courtship, and tells him of what it is like for a woman at a formal dance ("Shall We Dance?"). He demands that she teach the dance to him, and their dancing is interrupted by the Kralahome. Tuptim has been captured, and a search is on for Lun Tha. The King is determined to question and punish Tuptim, though she denies she and Lun Tha were lovers. Anna tries to dissuade him, and he takes the whip himself to prove the domination of his kingship over her influence. Under her gaze, however, he is unable to swing the whip. Lun Tha has been found dead, and Tuptim is dragged off swearing to join him in death. Anna returns the ring to the Kralahome as both express their wish that Anna had never come to Siam.
Several months pass. Anna is packed and ready to board a ship leaving Siam. Chulalongkorn arrives with a letter from the King, who has been unable to resolve the conflicts in himself and is dying. Anna hurries to his bedside and forgives him. The King prevails on her to accept the ring and persuades her to stay to assist the next king, Chulalongkorn. The King tells Anna to take dictation from the prince, and tells the boy to give orders as if he were King. The prince orders the end of the custom of kowtowing, to which Anna has objected. The King does not agree with the decision, but accepts it. As Chulalongkorn continues, prescribing a less arduous bow to show respect for the king, his father quietly dies. Anna kneels by the late King, holding his hand and kissing it, as the wives and children bow or curtsey, a gesture of respect to old king and new.