The King and I is a musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, with a script based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the questionable autobiographical story of Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s.
The musical opened on Broadway March 29, 1951 and starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, and a then mostly unknown Yul Brynner as the King. The production was directed by John Van Druten and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It ran for 1246 performances and won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress, Best Featured Actor (for Brynner--the King was not yet considered a leading role), Best Scenic Design and Best Costume Design.
Brynner reprised the role twice on Broadway in 1977 and 1985 and played it over 4,000 times in the course of his life. He often stated he was far too young for the part when he originated it and felt more comfortable as the King in later years.
Another Broadway revival opened on April 11, 1996 starring Lou Diamond Phillips as King Mongkut in his Broadway debut and Donna Murphy as Anna Leonowens. The secondary parts were cast as follows: Lun Tha was played by Jose Llana, Tuptim by Joohee Choi, and Lady Thiang by Taewon Kim. The production ran for 780 performances and closed February 22, 1998. The production was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won four, including the awards for Best Musical (Revival) and Best Actress in a Musical.
1956 Film version
Main Article: The King and I (1956 film)
The musical was filmed in 1956 with Brynner re-creating his role opposite Deborah Kerr. Brynner won an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal, and Kerr was nominated as Best Actress. The singing voice for Anna in the film was provided by Marni Nixon.
1999 Animated version
RichCrest Animation Studios (then known as Rich Animation Studios) made a new, animated adaptation of the musical. Many who have seen this version consider it a disgrace to both the original film and the Broadway version.
Mrs. Anna Leonowens, a widow from Wales, arrives in Bangkok with her young son to teach English to the children of the royal household. She threatens to leave when the house she was promised in the contract is not available, but is dissuaded from doing so when the King presents to her his children. The King eventually honors his promise of a suitable house. He also very much wishes to absorb western knowledge, but is sometimes conflicted over how to reconcile western ways with his own.
Meanwhile, a new (literate) slave for the king named Tuptim -- a gift from the king of Burma -- befriends "Mrs. Anna" and borrows her copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She transforms it into the Siamese ballet Small House of Uncle Thomas, which is presented amidst the welcoming of emissaries from Great Britain, making it clear she is unhappy being a slave to the King. After the performance, when she tries to escape with her lover Lun Tha, she is apprehended. Anna prevents the King from beating her, causing him to run away in shame and hide away for weeks. In the play, it is strongly implied that both Tuptim and Lun Tha are put to death, but in the 1956 film version of The King and I, it is suggested that only Lun Tha is killed.
Anna, thinking that she can no longer be of any use, is just about to leave Siam when she is told that the King is dying. She decides to stay in order to help his young son, Crown Prince Chulalongkorn -- her favorite pupil -- to rule his people.
(Incidentally, the portrayal in the musical suggests that Anna and the King are attracted to each other -- as best demonstrated in the number "Shall We Dance?" --)
Notes on the Music
The most well-known songs from the musical are probably "Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You," "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Shall We Dance?" Three songs omitted in the film-version -- "My Lord and Master" , "I Have Dreamed", and "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" -- were nonetheless included in the commercial soundtrack recording. (Interestingly, the song "Western People Funny," sung by Lady Thiang in the stage version, appears in the film only as orchestral background music.) The most colorful number in the musical, both musically and visually (to Western audiences), is the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas," choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
Rogers and Hammerstein knew they were writing for their stars, Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, who were not true singers. Therefore, they reserved the sweeping, deep melodies for the characters of Tuptim and Lun Tha and kept the songs sung by the other leads very simple.
Related film and television versions
There are two non-musical films based upon this story. In 1946, Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne starred in the film Anna and the King of Siam. In 1999, 20th Century Fox released another film entitled Anna and the King. This version starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. Also in 1999, an animated version of The King and I was released by Warner Bros.; it was also a musical, but except for using some of the songs, it was unrelated to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version. (Needless to say, there are considerable variations among the film versions of the story.)
A short-lived television series entitled Anna and the King was created in 1972, giving credit to Margaret Landon for the creation. Yul Brynner reprised his role in the series.