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The King and I is a musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siammarker in the early 1860s. Leonowens' story, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, was autobiographical, although its objective accuracy is questionable.

The musical opened on Broadwaymarker in 1951 and was the sixth collaboration for the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It ran for 1,246 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, among other awards. It spawned numerous revivals and a popular 1956 film version.


In 1950, Gertrude Lawrence's business manager and attorney Fanny Holtzmann was looking for a new property for her client when the 1944 Margaret Landon book Anna and the King of Siam was sent to her by the William Morris agent who represented Landon. He thought a stage adaptation of the book would be an ideal vehicle for the actress. Holtzmann agreed, but proposed a musical version would be better. Lawrence wanted Cole Porter to write the score, but when he proved to be unenthusiastic about the suggestion, Holtzmann sent the book to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers initially demurred because he felt Lawrence's vocal range was limited and she had a tendency to sing flat. But he realized the story had strong potential, and the two men agreed to write what ultimately became The King and I.

Initially Rex Harrison was suggested for the king, a role he had essayed in the 1946 film adaptation of Landon's book, but the actor was scheduled to appear in the T.S. Eliot play The Cocktail Party in Edinburghmarker and Londonmarker. Holtzmann then contacted Noël Coward, who had no interest in committing himself to a long run in a musical written by someone other than himself. Rodgers favored Alfred Drake, but the actor was willing to sign only for six months.

Pre-rehearsal preparations began in the autumn of 1950. Hammerstein had wanted Joshua Logan to direct and co-write the book, but when Logan declined Hammerstein decided to write the book himself and hired John van Druten, who had worked with Lawrence years earlier, to direct. The rest of the creative team included choreographer Jerome Robbins, set and lighting designer Jo Mielziner, and costume designer Irene Sharaff. Auditions for the role of the king were scheduled, and the first candidate to walk on stage was Yul Brynner, who had appeared opposite Mary Martin in Lute Song and presently was hosting a weekly variety show for CBS. The producers were impressed with his authoritative stage presence and reading, and immediately offered him the role.

The show, budgeted at $360,000, was the most expensive Rodgers and Hammerstein production to date. 20th Century Fox, which owned the film rights, contributed $40,000, and additional investors included Josh Logan, Mary Martin, Billy Rose, and Leland Hayward. Early in rehearsals, Lawrence realized the score was more complex than any she had sung in the past, and she feared she had taken on more than she could manage. Rodgers had composed her songs with her limited vocal range in mind, but she remained on edge and difficult to handle.

When the pre-Broadway tour opened in New Havenmarker on February 27, 1951, the show was nearly four hours long. Lawrence, battling laryngitis, had missed the dress rehearsal, but managed to make it through the first public performance. The Variety critic noted that despite her recent illness she "slinks, acts, cavorts, and in general exhibits exceedingly well her several facets for entertaining," but the Philadelphia Bulletin review observed her "already thin voice is now starting to wear a great deal thinner."

The production moved on to Boston, where reviews were mediocre. Lawrence felt one of the first act's problems was the lengthy delay between her first and second musical numbers. Rodgers agreed she needed another song earlier in the act, and remembered a number originally written for Lieut. Joe Cable to sing to Liat in South Pacific that had been replaced by "Younger Than Springtime" before the show opened. He realized the lyrics were perfect for Anna to sing to her Siamese charges when she first meets them, and "Getting to Know You" was added to the score. Also in Boston, the dance sequence for "Shall We Dance?" was expanded in response to positive audience reaction to the segment.

By the Broadway opening, all components of the musical had fallen into place, and the reviews were excellent. Brooks Atkinson called it "an original and beautiful excursion into the rich splendors of the Far East," while Richard Watts described it as "a show of a thousand delights with the magic of Gertrude Lawrence and a remarkably believable performance by Yul Brynner." The raves lifted Lawrence's spirits, and she prepared herself for a lengthy run as Anna, first on Broadway, then in the West Endmarker, and finally on film.

The actress, however, was unaware she was dying from liver cancer, and her weakened condition was exacerbated by the demands of her role. At the age of 52, she was required to wear dresses weighing 75 pounds while walking or dancing a total of four miles during a 3½ hour performance eight times a week. Her weight dropped to 110 pounds, and she couldn't bear the heat in the theater during the summer months. Understudy Constance Carpenter began replacing her in matinee performances. In the fall, Lawrence's strength returned, and she resumed her full schedule, but by Christmas she was battling pleurisy and suffering from exhaustion and entered the hospital for a full week of tests. Just nine months before her death, the cancer still was not detected. In February 1952, bronchitis felled her for another week, and Lawrence's husband Richard Aldrich asked Rodgers and Hammerstein if they would consider closing the show Easter week to allow her an opportunity to recover fully. They denied his request, but agreed to replace her with Celeste Holm for six weeks during the summer. In the meanwhile, Lawrence's performances were becoming increasingly worse, prompting audiences to become audibly restive, and Rodgers and Hammerstein to prepare a letter, ultimately never delivered, advising her "eight times a week you are losing the respect of 1,500 people."

In late August, Lawrence fainted following a matinee and was admitted to New York Hospital, where doctors diagnosed her as suffering from hepatitis. Her former son-in-law, Dr. Bill Cahan, suspected liver cancer might be a more accurate diagnosis, and early on the morning of September 6 doctors performed a biopsy of her liver. Lawrence slipped into a coma and died later that day. A subsequent autopsy revealed Cahan's suggestion of cancer had been correct. On the day of her funeral, The King and I cancelled its performance. Carpenter permanently assumed the role of Anna and went on to play it for 620 performances.


In Bangkok, Siam (which would later come to be known as Thailand), in 1862 a strong-willed, widowed schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, arrives at the request of the King of Siam to tutor his many children. Anna’s young son, Louis, fears the severe countenance of the King’s “Prime Minister” the Kralahome, but Anna refuses to be intimidated ("Whistle A Happy Tune"), and even speaks to the Kralahome rather insultingly. The Kralahome escorts them to the palace; he rides on a carried chair, while Anna and her son follow on foot behind him. Anna is bristling to confront the King about his broken promise regarding a house for Louis and herself outside of the palace walls. As they await an audience, the King receives a gift from the king of Burma, a lovely girl named Tuptim, who is to become one of his wives. The King sends her off to join his other wives, dismissing the young man who delivered the gift, Lun Tha. It is made obvious that Lun Tha and Tuptim are in love. The King turns to go, but Anna marches up to him, demanding to be heard. She is taken aback by the King’s dominance, as he claps his hands and orders her to “stand here” to meet the royal children. Anna plans to depart on the waiting ship if she does not get what has been promised to her, but she is so taken with the children that she decides she will stay. But she announces that she will pursue the topic of the house later.

Over the next few weeks, Anna proceeds to teach the children songs, proverbs, and poems all having to do with how important it is to have your own house, in an attempt to remind the King of his promise. The King recognizes her subterfuge and refuses to supply the house. The handful of wives who also have been allowed to partake of Anna’s teaching continually refer to Anna as “Sir”. When she asks them why, Lady Thiang, the King’s number one wife, explains “because you scientific, not lowly like woman.” Tuptim reveals her secret love for Lun Tha to Anna, and Anna reminisces about her deceased husband, Tom ("Hello, Young Lovers").

The King is quite pleased with Anna’s teaching. His eldest son Prince Chulalongkorn has some concerns, however. The young prince asks his father when he will know he knows everything and thus be ready to rule. The King gives him hope, but when he is alone, reveals that he himself is troubled; he does not know how best to rule ("A Puzzlement"). In the meantime, Anna tells the children that she has grown to like them ("Getting To Know You"). Then she launches into a new lesson — geography — having just received a more accurate map from England. The new map shows Siam in its proper size in relation to other countries. She has to end her lesson prematurely, though, when Prince Chulalongkorn refuses to believe that Siam is so small and that there is such a substance as snow. His father rescues Anna by ordering the children to believe her.

The Kralahome demands that Anna cease encouraging the King to modernize; he foresees danger ahead because he thinks that the King will not be able to lead effectively if he loses his authoritarian style. When Anna disregards this warning, the Kralahome retorts by predicting she’ll become the King’s slave. As if to confirm this, the King sends for Anna in the middle of the night and demands that she take a letter. During this menial task, to which Anna submits because she is charmed by the King’s desire to write to Abraham Lincoln, a man whom she admires, the King extracts from Anna the promise that she will conform to the tradition of never letting her head be higher than the King’s. In spite of her scientific and liberal beliefs, Anna promises to comply.

During another confrontation between Anna and the King, he finally articulates the phrase that Anna least wants to hear, “You are my servant!” Now Anna can no longer pretend to herself that she has not submitted to the King’s will, and she threatens to leave, saying “I cannot stay in a country where a promise has no meaning.” Anna is awaiting the next available ship when Lady Thiang comes to seek Anna’s help in advising the King on a new matter of great urgency. Anna initially refuses, but Lady Thiang describes her own experiences with the King—she acknowledges that he does not always behave in an acceptable manner, but he can be very generous, which makes her keep loving him ("Something Wonderful"). Anna is moved, and decides to stay.

Anna agrees to go to the King and to protect his male ego by acting as though she is not there to help him. The problem is that rumors have reached Queen Victoria that the King of Siam is a barbarian. If that is the case, or even if the perception is generally accepted, then the Queen will have little trouble making Siam a protectorate. The King cleverly demands that Anna “guess” what he should do, thus opening the door for her to give him some much-needed advice. She guesses that he will entertain the British Ambassador and the prominent British citizens of Bangkok with a banquet, to demonstrate his civility. The King is elated and he rushes all of his women, Anna included, off to the Buddhist in order to pray for success. Amid his wishes and demands that Anna carry out an inordinate number of tasks in one week, he at last promises to give Anna her house.

The European style dinner and entertainment have the desired effect. Tuptim has written a play for the entertainment of the notables, an Asian-style version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book given to her by Anna. The guests find the King witty, love Tuptim’s play, and toast the continued sovereignty of Siam. The King has won. However, he is disturbed by the note of rebellion and disrespect which he and Anna have detected in Tuptim’s play. The cruel Simon of Legree, whom Tuptim has transformed into a King rather than the plantation owner he was in Stowe’s novel, drowns in the pursuit of the escaped slave Eliza. The King knows that Tuptim is unhappy in his court and resents her disrespectful play. Tuptim herself obviously knows she has overstepped the mark, as we learn later that she has disappeared. The King initiates a search of the palace so that he may reprimand her, but it turns out that she has fled with Lun Tha. As the guards continue their search, the King and Anna celebrate their victory by dancing a polka together ("Shall We Dance?"). They are abruptly interrupted by the guards carrying a screaming Tuptim. The King furiously prepares to beat her himself, but Anna appeals to him to contain his anger and refuses to leave the room. The King cannot bring himself to whip the girl in front of Anna and runs offstage. The Kralahome snarls at Anna that she has destroyed the King. At this painful moment more bad news arrives—the guards have found Lun Tha’s drowned body in the river.

Once again Anna is awaiting the arrival of a ship to take her home to England. Lady Thiang once again arrives to plead with Anna to overcome her pride and visit the King. This time the situation is more grave; he is dying, having refused nourishment for many weeks. Lady Thiang hands Anna a letter that the King has managed to write her. In it he declares his admiration for Anna, who has been “much trouble” but who has affected him greatly. She runs to his side.

The children are brought in to their father. One child recites a letter to Anna begging her not to leave. Anna decides to send Louis to the ship to retrieve their luggage—she will stay after all.

Young Prince Chulalongkorn fears being made King before he is ready. The dying King asks him what he would do first as a ruler. As the prince explains his proclamation abolishing the traditional groveling bow, an idea clearly influenced by Anna, the King dies. Anna reverently kisses the hand of the dead king.

Song list

Act I
  • Overture—Orchestra
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune -- Anna and Louis
  • My Lord and Master—Tuptim
  • Hello, Young Lovers -- Anna
  • The March of the Siamese Children—Orchestra
  • Scene Before Curtain (Home Sweet Home) -- Priests and Children
  • A Puzzlement—King
  • The Royal Bangkok Academy—Anna, Wives, and Children
  • Getting to Know You -- Anna, Wives, and Children
  • We Kiss in a Shadow -- Tuptim and Lun Tha
  • A Puzzlement (Reprise) -- Louis and Prince Chululongkorn
  • Shall I Tell You What I Think of You? -- Anna
  • Something Wonderful -- Lady Thiang
  • Something Wonderful (Reprise) -- Lady Thiang
  • Finale, Act I—King, entire palace

Act II
  • Entr'acte—Orchestra
  • Western People Funny—Lady Thiang and Wives
  • I Have Dreamed -- Tuptim and Lun Tha
  • Hello, Young Lovers (Reprise) -- Anna
  • The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Ballet) -- Tuptim and Wives
  • Song of the King—King
  • Shall We Dance? -- Anna and King
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune (Reprise) -- Anna

Musical analysis

The best-known songs from the musical are probably "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You," "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Shall We Dance?" The most colorful number in the musical, visually (to Western audiences), is the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas," choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

Rodgers and Hammerstein knew they were writing for stars — Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, the original Broadway leads — who were primarily actors rather than singers. Therefore, they reserved the sweeping, more challenging melodies for the characters of Tuptim and Lun Tha and kept the songs sung by the other leads simple.

Mary Martin, who had starred in South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein a few years previously, was an investor in The King and I. When Gertrude Lawrence wanted to have a song with the children, Martin suggested that Rodgers and Hammerstein write new lyrics for "Suddenly Lovely," which had been cut out from South Pacific. The song then became "Getting to Know You."


Original 1951 Broadway production
The musical opened on Broadwaymarker at the St. James Theatre on March 29, 1951. It ran for 1,246 performances and won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress, Best Featured Actor (for Brynner, who was billed below the title and therefore considered featured instead of lead), Best Scenic Design and Best Costume Design. Lawrence died the year after The King and I opened on Broadway, she was 54 years old.

Original 1953 West End production
The musical opened at Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker on October 8, 1953, with Valerie Hobson as Anna and Herbert Lom as the King. Muriel Smith portrayed Lady Thiang. The show ran for 926 performances.

1960 Broadway revival
City Center produced a revival of The King and I with Barbara Cook as Anna and Farley Granger as the King. It played for a short run of 23 performances.

1964 Cleveland Pops Orchestra production
The Cleveland Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Lehman Engel, performed a concert version and made a studio recording of The King and I with Barbara Cook as Anna, Theodore Bikel as the King, Jeanette Scovotti as Tuptim, Daniel Ferro as Lun Tha, and Anita Darian as Lady Thiang.

1977 Broadway revival
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. The 1977 production opened at the Uris Theatre, (now the George Gershwin Theatremarker) on May 2, 1977 with, in addition to Brynner, Constance Towers as Anna Leonowens, June Angela as Tuptim and Martin Vidnovic as Lun Tha. It was directed by Yuriko. Angela Lansbury took over the role of Anna later in the run. The revival ran for 695 performances.

1979 West End revival
In 1979 a new production opened at the London Palladiummarker with Brynner recreating his most famous role, co-starring with Virginia McKenna and John Bennett.

1983 Hollywood production
Brynner reprised the role for a 6-week period beginning in August 1983, at the Pantages Theater marker, where he had earlier played the role in 1954.

1985 Broadway revival
The 1985 revival opened at The Broadway Theatremarker on January 7, 1985 with Brynner as the King and Mary Beth Peil as Anna. The production was directed by Mitch Leigh. This revival was nominated for two Tony awards. Yul Brynner received a Tony Special Award "honoring his 4,525 performances in The King and I. It ran for 191 performances.

1996 Broadway revival
Another Broadway revival opened on April 11, 1996 at the Neil Simon Theatremarker, 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 won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical and was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning four, including the Best Musical Revival and Best Actress in a Musical. This version was notable for having the original material (score and dialogue) updated.

2000 West End revival
A production based on the 1996 Broadway revival opened May 3, 2000, at the London Palladiummarker. It starred Elaine Paige as Anna and Jason Scott Lee and Paul Nakauchi as the King.
Poster for the 2000 London revival
. A production based on the 2000 London production toured the UK between 2002 and 2003 starring initially Stefanie Powers and then subsequently Marti Webb as Anna opposite Ronobir Lahiri as The King.

2007 Asian tour
The musical made its Asia premiere in Shenzhen, China, on April 25, 2007. The tour continued to Hangzhou, China, as well as to Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The production starred Paul Nakauchi, formerly of the 2000 London revival production, as the King and Brianna Borger as Anna.

2009 London Revival
A fully-staged arena production, in-the-round, was performed at Royal Albert Hallmarker in June 2009. The production was directed by Jeremy Sams and starred Lost actor Daniel Dae Kim as The King and Maria Friedman as Anna.

Film and television versions

1956 film version

The musical was filmed in 1956 with Brynner re-creating his role opposite Deborah Kerr. The film won 5 Academy Awards and was nominated for four more. Brynner won an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal, and Kerr was nominated as Best Actress. The film also won for best music.

1999 Animated version

RichCrest Animation Studios released a new, animated adaptation of the musical in 1999. However, except for using some of the songs, the story was unrelated to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version.

Other film and television versions

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 as the King while Samantha Eggar played Anna Leonowens (renamed Anna Owen; and in this version, Anna and her son Louis are depicted as American, rather than British).

There are two non-musical films based upon Anna Leonowens' 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.


There are numerous recordings of the musical available: the original Broadway and London cast recordings; the film soundtrack; the 1977 Broadway cast recording; the 1996 and 2000 revival cast recordings; the 1992 Studio cast recording with Julie Andrews, Ben Kingsley and Lea Salonga.

Reaction in Thailand

Most Thai were shocked by the portrayal of their revered nineteenth-century king, Mongkut, in the musical The King and I, due to historical inaccuracies. The stage and screen versions were based on Margaret Landon's 1944 book entitled Anna and the King of Siam. To correct the record, well-known Thai intellectuals Seni and Kukrit Pramoj wrote the account The King of Siam speaks in 1948. The Pramoj brothers sent their manuscript to the American politician and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat, who drew on it for his biography entitled Mongkut the King of Siam (1961). Moffat donated the Pramoj manuscript to the U.S. Library of Congressmarker in 1961.


  1. Morley, Sheridan, Gertrude Lawrence. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill 1981. ISBN 0-07-043149-3 pp. 185-86
  2. Morley, p. 188
  3. Morley, pp. 188-89
  4. Morley, p. 190
  5. Morley, p. 191
  6. Morley, p. 192
  7. Morley, p. 193
  8. Morley, pp. 191-96
  9. Morley, pp. 197-98
  10. Constance Carpenter obituary, New York Times, January 1, 1993
  11. "The King and I: Notes on the Music" from
  12. Playbill Happy Talk 18 Dec 1995
  14. [1],
  15. [2],
  16. Shenton, Mark. "Lost Star Daniel Dae Kim and Maria Friedman to Head Royal Albert Hall King and I",, December 11, 2008
  17. Finding Aid for the Abbot Low Moffat papers, 1929-1943 (APAP-063). Bonita L. Weddle, compiler, January 31, 2000. M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York.
  18. Southeast Asian Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress


  • Morgan, Susan. Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess, University of California Press, 2008 ISBN 978-0-520-25226-4

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