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 Landons novel, Anna and the King of Siam, the musicals plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the Kings 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 Broadways St. James Theatre. It ran for three years, making it the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history at the time, and has had many tours. In 1950, theatrical attorney Fanny Holtzmann was looking for a part for her client, Holtzmann realized that Landons 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 part of the King, a role he had played in the 1946 film made from Landons book. They settled on the actor and television director Yul Brynner. The musical was an hit, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress. Lawrence died unexpectedly of cancer a year and a half after the opening, 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, Christopher Renshaw directed major revivals on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival, and in the West End. A2015 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. Mongkut, King of Siam, was about 57 years old in 1861 and 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. Through his decades of devotion, Mongkut acquired an ascetic lifestyle, when Nangklao died in 1850, Mongkut became king. At that time, various European countries were striving for dominance and he ultimately succeeded in keeping Siam an independent nation, partly by familiarizing his heirs and harem with Western ways. In 1861, Mongkut wrote to his Singapore agent, Tan Kim Ching, asking him to find a British lady to be governess to the royal children. At the time, the British community in Singapore was small, and the fell on a recent arrival there, Anna Leonowens. Leonowens was the Anglo-Indian daughter of an Indian Army soldier and the widow of Thomas Owens and 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. Her deception was not detected until long after her death, and had not come to light when The King
Original Broadway poster (1951)
King Mongkut (far right) with his heir Chulalongkorn seated next to him and some of his other children. A wife is seated at left.
Mongkut with Chulalongkorn, dressed in naval uniforms