Tuesday, March 29, 2011

broadway birthday THE KING AND I opened on Broadway 60 years ago today- March 29, 1951

60 Years ago today musical theatre history was made when The King and I opened on Broadway.  This was actually the 4th successful stage musical that the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created, following Oklahoma! in 1943, Carousel in 1945 and South Pacific in 1949.   The King and I is based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon from 1944, which had already been turned into a film.  

Gertrude Lawrence purchased the rights to the novel as a vehicle for herself and her business manager approached Rodgers and Hammerstein about writing the score.  At first they were reluctant, not being fans of the novel which was somewhat disjointed as well as questioning the aging Lawrence's ability to carry a musical.  However, they agreed and the rest is history.

The story follows Anna Leonowens as she arrives in 1860's Siam from England to become the governess for the King's children.   The King is interested in Western ways and through his relationship with Anna becomes a much better man.   His son, who is next in line for the throne, also realizes that progress is necessary and that the way the King rules can be a positive thing.   Of course, there are also some glorious songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein including "Shall We Dance," "Hello Young Lovers," "Something Wonderful" and a beautiful dance sequence in the second act, "Small House of Uncle Thomas" a dramatic ballet based on "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that is a correlation to the lives of some of the Siam people who were treated like slaves.   The original production ran for three years and 1246 performances.
The musical has been revived on Broadway three times.  The first one happened in 1977, the revival ran for a year and a half and 695 performances.  When Yul Brynner took a three week vacation, Angela Lansbury played the part of "Anna"  - to the left is a poster for those 24 performances.  Brynner was back again in 1985, this time for a 6 month run that ended a National Tour with a final stop on Broadway, with Mary Beth Peil from tv's The Good Wife as his "Anna."   Unfortunately, just like Gertrude Lawrence during the original run, Brynner had cancer and would die within a few months of his last Broadway performance.   The last major revival was in 1996 when Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Philips played Anna and the King. Murphy won a Tony for her performance.   I saw that production twice and have to say that it is one of my most favorite theatrical memories, the production and cast was simply top notch.

The 1956 film version was a huge success as well.  Brynner recreated his stage performance, winning an Oscar for it and Deborah Kerr was "Anna." - though her singing was done by Marnie Nixon.  Some adjustments were made for the film, including eliminating a couple of songs, however the entire Jerome Robbin's choreography was intact, including a beautifully shot "Small House of Uncle Thomas."   If you buy or rent this film, make sure to get the widescreen version as this was one of the earliest CinemaScope productions and there are many sequences when they use every inch of the image.

Yul Brynner and Patricia Morrison Tony Award performance -

Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy from the 1996 Tony Awards -

Amazon link for the original broadway cast recording on cd...
The King and I: A Decca Broadway Original Cast Album (Original 1951 Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the film soundtrack from 1956...
The King and I (1956 Film Soundtrack)

Amazon link for the film on dvd - The King and I (50th Anniversary Edition)

Amazon link for the 1996 Revival cast recording - The King and I (1996 Broadway Revival Cast)

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