The King and I is the fifth musical by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. It is based on Margaret Landon's novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. The musical's plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King's drive to modernize his country. 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. The musical premiered on March 29, 1951, at Broadway's St. James Theatre. It ran for nearly three years, making it the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history at the time, and has had many tours and revivals.
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 provide an ideal vehicle and contacted Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were initially reluctant but agreed to write the musical. 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. They settled on the young actor and television director 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 several actresses during the remainder of the Broadway run of 1,246 performances. A hit 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. 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.
Christopher Renshaw directed major revivals on Broadway (1996), winning the Tony Award for Best Revival, and in the West End (2000). A 2015 Broadway revival won another Tony for Best Revival. Both professional and amateur revivals of The King and I continue to be staged regularly throughout the English-speaking world.
The historical background is related to Mongkut, King of Siam, who was about 57 years old in 1861. He had lived half his life as a Buddhist monk, was an able scholar, and founded a new order of Buddhism and a temple in Bangkok (paid for by his half-brother, King Nangklao). Through his decades of devotion, Mongkut acquired an ascetic lifestyle and a firm grasp of Western languages. When Nangklao died in 1850, Mongkut became king.
Lincoln Center Theater’s THE KING AND I is the winner of the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Musical Revival. Featuring a score of treasured songs including “Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance."
With a cast of more than 50, this “first-rate, sumptuous” (The New York Times) production is "too beautiful to miss" (New York Magazine).