the king and i


  • “[31] Eventually, Hammerstein decided to write about how Anna felt, a song which would not only explain her past and her motivation for traveling with her son to the court
    of Siam, but also serve to establish a bond with Tuptim and lay the groundwork for the conflict that devastates Anna’s relationship with the King.

  • With time running short before rehearsals, finding an actor to play the King became a major concern.

  • This would eventually become the narrated dance, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”.

  • He first thought that Anna would simply 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).

  • The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love to which neither can admit.

  • News is brought to the King that the British are arriving much earlier than thought, and so Anna and the wives are to stay up all night to prepare.

  • The pair initially sought Rex Harrison to play the supporting part of the King, a role he had played in the 1946 film made from Landon’s book, but he was unavailable.

  • “[37] 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”.

  • His wife, his agent and Martin 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.

  • [19] Also, since Lawrence was not primarily a singer, the secondary couple gave Rodgers a chance to write his usual “soaring” romantic melodies.

  • When the King is called away, it emerges 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.

  • Act 2[edit] “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” scene The wives are dressed in their new European-style gowns, which they find confining (“Western People Funny”).

  • [15] In spite of this, they admired her acting – what Hammerstein called her “magic light”, a compelling presence on stage – and agreed to write the show.

  • [48] Part of the Act I song list from the New Haven tryout This song, “Waiting”, was a trio for Anna, the King, and the Kralahome (the King’s prime minister).

  • 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.

  • [35][36] In any case, Brynner’s fierce, mercurial, dangerous, yet surprisingly sensitive King was an ideal foil for Lawrence’s strong-willed, yet vulnerable Anna, and when
    the two finally came together in “Shall We Dance?

  • [32] Casting and auditions Although the part of the King was only a supporting role to Lawrence’s Anna, Hammerstein and Rodgers thought it essential that a well-known theatrical
    actor play it.

  • [16] For her part, Lawrence committed to remaining 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.

  • He recalled that as an established television director (in CBS’s Starlight Theatre, for example), he was reluctant to go back on the stage.

  • [28] His choreography for the parade of the King’s children to meet their teacher (“March of the Royal Siamese Children”) drew great acclaim.

  • The musical’s plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher who is hired as part of the King’s drive to modernize his country.

  • After Sir Edward leaves, Anna and the King express their delight at how well the evening went, and he presents her with a ring.

  • [20] In an interview for The New York Times, Hammerstein indicated that he wrote the first scene before leaving for London and the West End production of Carousel in mid-1950;
    he wrote a second scene while there.

  • 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

  • Mary Martin, the original Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, suggested that her co-star in a 1946 musical set in China, Lute Song, try for the role.

  • Since a frank expression of romantic feelings between the King and Anna would be inappropriate in view of both parties’ upbringing and prevailing social mores,[18] Hammerstein
    wrote love scenes for a secondary couple, Tuptim, a junior wife of the King, and Lun Tha, a scholar.

  • [45] Lawrence’s health caused her to miss several rehearsals, though no one knew what was wrong with her.

  • Rodgers, who had experimented with Asian music in his short-lived 1928 musical with Lorenz Hart titled Chee-chee,[22] did not wish to use actual Thai music, which American
    audiences might not find accessible.

  • Anna asks the Kralahome to give her ring back to the King; both schoolteacher and minister state their wish that she had never come to Siam.

  • [46] Leland Hayward came to see the show in New Haven and shocked Rodgers by advising him to close it before it went any further.

  • Lawrence’s temperament was another concern: though she could not sing like one, the star was known to be capable of diva-like behavior.

  • Even the weather cooperated: heavy rain in New York stopped in time to allow the mostly wealthy or connected opening night audience to arrive dry at the St. James Theatre.

  • [27] 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.

  • Her deception was not detected until long after her death, and had still not come to light when The King and I was written.

  • A hit West End London run and U.S. national tour followed, together with a 1956 film for which Brynner won an Academy Award, and the musical was recorded several times.

  • The King gives Anna her first audience.

  • The composer complained that most people were not concerned about whether the show was good, but whether it was better than South Pacific.

  • Tuptim has been writing a play based on a book that Anna has lent her, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that can be presented to the guests.

  • Robbins staged “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” as an intimate performance, rather than a large production number.

  • Anna tries to explain to him the Western customs of courtship and tells him what it is like for a young woman at a formal dance (“Shall We Dance?”).

  • [30] The pair discussed having an Act 1 musical scene involving Anna and the King’s wives.

  • “Now You Leave”, a song for Lady Thiang (played by Dorothy Sarnoff in the original production), was also cut.

  • [10] Holtzmann agreed that a musical based on Anna and the King of Siam would be ideal for her client,[8] who purchased the rights to adapt the novel for the stage.

  • Anna stands her ground and insists on the letter of her contract, threatening to leave Siam, much to the dismay of wives and children.

  • Lawrence as Anna takes dictation from the King (Brynner), 1951 In her room, Anna replays the confrontation in her mind, her anger building (“Shall I Tell You What I Think
    of You?”).

  • Several months pass with no contact between Anna and the King.

  • Robbins was very enthusiastic about the project and asked to choreograph the other musical numbers as well, although Rodgers and Hammerstein had originally planned little
    other dancing.

  • [3] Mongkut with Chulalongkorn, dressed in naval uniforms Upon receiving the King’s invitation, Leonowens sent her daughter, Avis, to school in England, to give Avis the social
    advantage of a prestigious British education, and traveled to Bangkok with her five-year-old son, Louis.

  • In later revivals, Brynner came to dominate his role and the musical, starring in a four-year national tour culminating in a 1985 Broadway run shortly before his death.

  • At the time, the British community in Singapore was small, and the choice fell on a recent arrival there, Anna Leonowens (1831–1915), who was running a small nursery school
    in the colony.

  • – Anna • “Something Wonderful” – Lady Thiang • “Buddhist Prayer”/Act I finale – King and Company Act II Entr’acte – Orchestra • “Western People Funny” – Lady Thiang and Wives
    • “I Have Dreamed” – Tuptim and Lun Tha • “Hello, Young Lovers” (reprise) – Anna • “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” (Ballet) – Tuptim and Wives • “Song of the King” – King and Anna • “Shall We Dance?”

  • [24] Many of the King’s lines, including his first utterance, “Who?

  • [33] Rodgers recounted 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.

  • [47] Gemze de Lappe, who was one of the dancers, recalled one cut that she regretted: They took out a wonderful scene.

  • [9] The 51-year-old actress had appeared only in plays, not in musicals, since Lady in the Dark closed in 1943.

  • She had arrived in Singapore two years previously, claiming to be the genteel widow of an officer and explaining her dark complexion by stating that she was Welsh by birth.

  • 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.

  • Additionally, when the show left New Haven for Boston for more tryout performances, it was still at least 45 minutes too long.

  • Lawrence, suffering from laryngitis, had missed the dress rehearsal but managed to make it through the first public performance.

  • The children are surprised by a map showing how small Siam is compared with the rest of the world (“Getting to Know You”).

  • The musical’s most radical change from the novel was to have the King die at the end of the musical.

  • Mary Martin reminded them of a song that had been cut from South Pacific, “Suddenly Lucky”.

  • At a time when most transport in Bangkok was by boat, Mongkut did not wish to have to arrange for the teacher to get to work every day.

  • “Western People Funny” and “I Have Dreamed” were also added in Boston.

  • The King and I opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951, with a wide expectation of a hit by the press and public.

  • The forceful style reflected the King’s personality and was maintained even when he sang, especially in his one solo, “A Puzzlement”.

  • 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.

  • Hammerstein considered the song his best work and was anxious to hear what Rodgers thought of it, but no comment came from Rodgers.

  • She was going to approach Noël Coward next, but happened to meet Dorothy Hammerstein (Oscar’s wife) in Manhattan.

  • When he told this to Hammerstein and Rodgers, they asked what sort of performance they would get from him, and he responded, “It will be good enough, it will get the reviews.

  • Holtzmann told Dorothy Hammerstein that she wanted Rodgers and Hammerstein to create a show for Lawrence, and asked her to see that her husband read a book that Holtzmann
    would send over.

  • The dying man tells Anna to take dictation from the prince, and instructs the boy to give orders as if he were King.

  • He tells her he has an escape plan, and she should be ready to leave after the performance (“I Have Dreamed”).

  • As Chulalongkorn continues, prescribing a less arduous bow to show respect for the king, his father dies.

  • The King presents her new pupils; Anna is to teach those of his children whose mothers are in favor with him – several dozen – and is to teach their mothers as well.


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