The King and I was another lavish Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, this time based on Anna Leonowens’ autobiographical novel Anna and The King of Siam.
Originally a Broadway show, the musical tells the story of Anna, a young, recently-widowed mother of one son who comes to 19th-century Siam (now known as Thailand) to tutor the king’s many children.
Anna and the King immediately clash. The King expects everyone to submit to his beliefs and demands, and he is greatly annoyed when Anna does not. Her headstrong personality and British upbringing make her bristle at Siam’s notions of subservience and sexism.
The King and Anna eventually warm to each other, even if they still do not necessarily approve of each other’s thinking. Yet the two are charmed by each other’s distinct, but opposing personalities.
Anna also loves tutoring the King’s large brood of children and wives, but she soon learns that their perspective of the world is marred by the King’s outrageous opinions and huge ego.
When she tries to instruct them about world geography, she is amused to learn that the children think that Siam is the largest country in the world, and the British Empire is tiny by comparison.
Anna seems to enjoy living in Siam until she witnesses the King’s harsh treatment of one of his concubines, a young woman unwilling to be the King’s consort because she is in love with another man.
Anna must decide whether she can live in a country whose way of life she does not approve of, as well as reconcile her feelings for the King himself.
The King and I included several memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, including Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance?, as well as the famous House of Uncle Thomas performance that featured Thai dancing and pantomime.
Yul Brenner originated the role of the King of Siam on Broadway and also played him in the film, winning both a Tony and an Oscar for his performance of the same role. The King and I was nominated for eight other awards, including Best Picture, winning five of them.
After more than five decades in release, The King and I has become a classic musical, still being watched by song and dance fans around the world.
The story’s continuing popularity has led to two remakes, both released in 1999. Warner Bros.’ The King and I was an animated retelling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein play, while 20th Century Fox’s Anna and the King dispensed with the singing and dancing to focus on Anna Leonowens’ story, with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat in the title roles.
Deborah Kerr’s singing voice was provided by Marni Nixon.
Sir John Hay
Sir Edward Ramsay