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Lute Song is a 1946 American musical with a book by Sidney Howard and Will Irwin, music by Raymond Scott, and lyrics by Bernard Hanighen. It is based on the 14th century Chinese play Pi-Pa-Ki by Kao-Tong-Kia and Mao-Tseo. Though not a great success, the show is significant for Mary Martin's meeting of then-unknown cast member Yul Brynner, whom she later recommended to her friends Rodgers and Hammerstein for the role of the Siamese monarch in the classic The King and I, which premiered on Broadwaymarker in 1951. It was also the only Broadway appearance of future U.S.marker First Lady Nancy Reagan.


The plot focuses on Tsai-Yong, a young student who leaves his wife Tchao-Ou-Niang and parents to make a name for himself. He becomes a notable magistrate, but when he marries Princess Nieou-Chi, he is forbidden by her father to contact his family. His impoverished parents die of starvation during a famine, and Tchao-Ou-Niang is forced to sell her hair to pay for their funeral. She ultimately is reunited with her husband by Nieou-Chi, and is welcomed to the palace as his #1 wife.


The Broadwaymarker production was directed by John Houseman. It opened at the Plymouth Theatre on February 6, 1946 and closed on June 8 of the same year after running for 142 performances. Scenic, costume, and lighting design were by Robert Edmond Jones.

The cast included Yul Brynner as Tsai-Yong, Mary Martin as Tchao-Ou-Niang, Mildred Dunnock and Augustin Duncan as the parents, and Helen Craig as Nieou-Chi. Appearing as Si-Tchun, a Lady-in-Waiting, was Nancy Davis, making her first and only Broadway appearance.

Song list

Act 1
  • Mountain High, Valley Low ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang and Tsai-Yong
  • Monkey See, Monkey Do ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang
  • Where You Are ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang
Act 2
  • Willow Tree ..... Tsai-Yong
  • Vision Song ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang and Tsai-Yong
  • Bitter Harvest ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang
Act 3
  • Mountain High, Valley Low (Reprise) ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang
  • Lute Song ..... Tchao-Ou-Niang

Decca Records released an album containing six tracks - four vocals by Martin and two instrumentals - on three 78 RPM records.

Critical reception

Time called it "the season's loveliest production and most charming failure [that] never quite catches the inner glow of art or the outward stir of theater." It continued, "There should have been either less spectacle or less story. As it is, the old tale is retold at considerable length, but loses much of its flow and human feeling through gorgeous interruptions and sumptuous distractions. What's more, neither the writing nor the acting has quite the stylized quality it reaches after."


  1. Free preview at
  2. Lute Song at
  3. Time, February 8, 1946

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