Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Richard Rodgers
adapted from the book Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon

INFO:

Opened at the St. James Theatre    March 29, 1951    1,246 performances (very often revived on Broadway.)
Original Director: John Van Druten
Original Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
Original Producer: R&H
Original Leads: Anna: Gertrude Lawrence    The King: Yul Brynner
Cast Size: Male: 9    Female: 4    Ensemble: A large number, and many children    Total Cast Size: 13 plus ensemble, the original cast was about 60(!!!). Could be done with perhaps 30.
Orchestra: 24 or so. There is a two piano arrangement.
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Rodgers and Hammerstein Library
Recordings: The original cast is very good, but there are many recordings of this score.
Film: With Brynner and Deborah Kerr, improved from the theatrical version by masterful screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Certainly worth a look.
Other shows by the authors: Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song, Allegro, The Sound of Music   Hammerstein: Show Boat   Rodgers: Babes In Arms, Pal Joey, No Strings
Awards: The original won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actress (Lawrence), Best Actor (Brynner)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

The King & I has great strengths as a show, and a few questionable elements. First and foremost, it is a very large show, one of the largest in terms of cast, orchestra, and technical demands, in all the Musical Theater repertoire. Only the largest and most well-equipped companies should probably tackle this show. Opera companies could consider it. Regional theatres with large stages and budgets might want to resurrect it, it is a piece worthy of that sort of support. Most Little Theatres, Dinner Theatres and the like probably can’t pull it off, at least not too well. And your two leads must be something wonderful.

Be Warned:

The King is often cast as an “exotic”, a Latino actor, or an actor of indeterminate background, as Brynner was. The problem with this is that he was the King of Siam. His background is known, he is a real and historical figure. His name was Mongkut, and in Thailand (modern day Siam), he is highly revered. Anna, her full name is Anna Harriette Leonowens, was also a real person.

So in portraying this actual King, it would be easy to insult people of Asian descent by casting someone not of Asian descent. And there are few musicals indeed that ask for Asian actors to be cast without demeaning them. Those would include Pacific Overtures, Once On This Island (Philippine), and this show. Now, Brynner was fantastic as the King! It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. But as the Director or Producer of this show, you should really try to imagine and cast an Asian in this role. This is especially true as the show deals with bridging gaps between cultures and people. The gaps should be on clear display.

This show is huge in terms or orchestra and cast and costumes. HUGE. It is one of the finest of all musicals in many ways, and deserves to be seen often. But it’s a load for a theater company. If you haven’t the resources, or the two stars, it’s probably not worth attempting. And the show requires a skilled and experienced Director who knows how to develop the love story in a slow and suspenseful manner, to pay off in the final number in the show. And that famous dance is it – that’s all there is, folks, in way of a pay-off, so it must be an emotional sunburst of a moment.

The right director, the right two stars, sufficient resources, all must be in place to get this show right.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The deck of a ship sailing from Singapore to the Gulf of Siam. Anna’s young son, Louis, runs about and speaks to the captain as they approach Bangkok. Anna comes in search of the boy. They are going to Siam because its King has employed Anna to teach his many children in the ways of England. The captain warns Anna that the King’s power can be used for or against a person. Louis asks his mother if his father, who has passed away, would have approved of them being afraid, and Anna says that “I Whistle A Happy Tune” when afraid, and it cheers her up. Still, they are terrified at the King’s men, who come for her and her many bags.

The representative of the King, the Kralahome, questions Anna, and we find out that her husband was with Her Majesty’s Army, but she stops providing information, making it clear she was employed to teach, and that’s all. Her personal affairs are her business. She has a spine. She asks about promised pay and lodgings, and the representative points out that the King does not always remember his promises. Nd the King is busy now, as the Queen passed away a month ago. She will need to wait in the palace for his pleasure., She says she will teach in the palace, but that she and her son must have their own place to live. The man smiles at the thought of her making demands of the King, and thinks their meeting will be interesting.

The King’s study. The Kralahome speaks with the King about Anna. He says she’s unruly,. Demands the house he promised. He does not recall such a promise, but says he’ll see her. But then he receives a gift from the prince of Burma, a woman named Tuptim. They both speak some English. He thinks she may be a spy. But he’s pleased with her. Her hatred for “Her Lord And Master” and her life of slavery becomes clear. He will never see through her smile that she loves another man. Anna is brought in. She wants to start her work, and he tells her that she can start when he says to start. He explains she is a part of his plans for Siam, which she knows because she researched him. He likes that and he likes her, and orders the children to be presented to her. First he introduces his “head wife,” Lady Thinag, and orders his wife to assist and learn from Anna. She meets Tuptim, who asks top read Uncle Tom’s Cabin – a book about slavery written by a woman. The King decides Anna should teach his wives, too. And she will assist him in his foreign correspondence. But she demands a house, and he wants her to live in the palace. He departs, his mind made up.

Various wives rush in to meet her, amazed by her strange clothes. And it becomes clear to Anna that women are considered second class human beings in Siam. She tells Lady Thiang that she believes women are mens equal. Thiang begs her not to say that to the King. They speak of Tuptim, who Lady Thiang believes is in love with another man, and whom she fears she will never see again. Anna explains she was in love with her husband, and she understands. (“Hello, Young Lovers”) Re-enter the King, and orders her to watch as the “March of the Siamese Children” passes by. They are beautiful and many, and she immediately loves them.

Later. The King speaks to the eldest of his sons, Chulalongkorn. (I’ll call him “Chu for short.) The children are learning English. The King discovers they are learning many proverbs, all having to do with the idea that a person needs a home, and is irritated. Alone, the King admits that he does not know everything…that the world, women, people are all “A Puzzlement”.

The schoolroom. Anna teaches the children. They have studied an old map, but she shows them a new one from their father, the King, whom they call “The Lord of Light.” She shows them Siam, and they protest how small it is. She then shows them her home, England, and how small it is. She’s been in Siam a year, and tells the children she is “Getting To Know You”. (Note – the movie version with Brynner, written by Ernest Lehman, is better constructed and places songs in more useful spots for the story.) The children ask about different places on the map. They ask about snow, which they’ve never seen. She answers, but Chu insists Siam is the biggest country in the world. The King arrives to support Anna regarding snow, and insists they must believe her and learn from her. Then he berates her for all her talk of a home, and she quotes his promise from their contract. He insists she is his servant, and she immediately rebels. Anna is no one’s servant, and that she will return to England if the King does not keep his promise. This upsets the children and Lady Thiang. He tries to bargain, offering her servants. She is furious, and leaves the room. The King dismisses everyone. He is King! He is always right! But he is unsure. He leaves.

Tuptim enters, looks around, and is joined by Lun Tha, the man she loves. The man complains that “We Kiss In A Shadow”, and that they cannot be together.

Another part of the palace. Anna’s son Louis, and Price Chu enter from opposite directions. They argued over the honor of their parents, and each apologize. Chu is surprised Anna plans to leave, and says the King will not allow it. They both notice that even smart adults don’t always agree or know what to do. (reprise for the two boys of “A Puzzlement”, a lovely idea.) In her bedroom, Anna rages. (“Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?”) She doesn’t like the King’s ways, his many women. But she loves the children, and is torn. But she is no man’s servant. Then, Lady Thiang enters and asks her to see the King. He has not sent for her, but Thiang says he is a “wounded man.” They have received a letter addressed to the British government calling the King a barbarian, and suggesting England take over Siam. Anna is outraged that the west would see this man in such a way. Thiang asks her to advise the King. Still, Anna will not go to him. Thiang tries to explain to her that the King, for all his stubbornness, is forward looking, concerned, “Something Wonderful”. She convinces Anna to speak to him.

The King’s study. He’s been reading a large English Bible, as Anna enters. The King rails at Anna that Moses was a fool. (Pretty funny in-joke as later in his career, Brynner would of course Play Ramses, the pharaoh who tried to stop Moses.) He complains that Moses claims the world was created in six days, and the King states that everyone knows it took many ages. She explains the difference between faith and science. He wants to know if she’s come to apologize, and she start to say she’s sorry…she cannot apologize…when he accepts her “I’m sorry” as her apology. He wants to know about President Lincoln. He decides to send him war elephants to aid his cause. He dictates a letter to Lincoln, and as he does, notices Anna’s head is higher than his, a sign of disrespect. She refuses to grovel. She none the less promises to keep her head lower than his, and he tests her by moving ever lower and lower toward the floor. Keeping her word, she ends up flat on the floor, as he wishes. But he refuses to speak of important issues with a woman, so she brings up (carefully, casually) the question – has there been news from abroad? And he tells her of the letter. And she suggests that it is his idea to make sure they find out the truth about the King and Siam, by not fighting with Sir Edward Ramsay, the British diplomat coming to Siam, but rather by entertaining him in a civilized manner. Ramsay would then return to England and report to the Queen that he is not a barbarian. And she knew Ramsay – they are “old friends.”

They speak of how to impress Ramsay, and Anna suggests dressing everyone in European garb. But they have only a week before Ramsay gets there. And Anna thinks a grand dinner is what they need to do. The King orders that the kingdom shall work around the clock to prepare. They are surprised by fireworks…but no, it’s a British gunboat, saluting, and the Siamese responding with fireworks. Ramsay has arrived early. Anna and the King start to immediately work together to stall the man, and to prepare. The palace is in uproar, and in the midst the King sees Anna’s head is higher than his. A promise is a promise, she lowers her head. And a promise is a promise, so he swears to Buddha to build Anna her house as the act ends.

ACT TWO: The schoolroom, made into a dressing room. The night of the party. The wives are dressing and making-up as westerners, but “Western People Funny”. And, they feel, westerners are the uncivilized ones. Anna enters to see that these “western” clothes lack undergarments! The King asks if that is important, and she assures him. But it’s too late, the English are in the palace. Some of the wives fear they will be eaten, and Anna reassures them. They are planning quickly when Edward Ramsay enters and is stunned to see ladies lacking undergarments. But he’s a dear man, and is afraid his monocle frightened the ladies. And he tells the King that, contrary to his belief, Edward has conceived a high opinion of the wives.

The King sees that Anna and Ramsay share a sort of intimacy, and this makes him unhappy. He insists that the next day, Ramsay meet the King’s seventy-seven children. A waltz is heard, dinner is served. Edward offers to dance with Anna, and asks if she is single. She tells him she has no one here, even as the King observes. He reminds her he once asked her to marry him. He takes one arm…the King quickly takes her other arm, and they escort her to dinner.

On the grounds,. Tuptim sneaks around, and is caught by Lady Thiang, who has been protecting her all along. Thiang says Tuptim should be inside, ready to perform the play they’ve prepared for the British. And she tells Tuptim that she knows why she’s in this garden, and starts away when she sees Tuptim’s love, Lun Tha. She exits. The two lovers each share what “I Have Dreamed”, that they will be together, Anna interrupts, sending Tuptim in to do the play. Lun Tha tells Anna the two lovers are leaving that night, but will not explain how. Anna wishes them luck.

Inside, the play. It is a strange but thrilling hybrid between western story-telling (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), and eastern dance, song and theatre. (“The Small House of Uncle Thomas”) It is utterly enchanting, as Ramsay tells the King, seated in his study later in the evening. He promises a fine report to the Queen, bows to Anna, and departs. The King and Anna are exhausted, but the King attempts to express his gratitude. He commands her to accept a ring as a gift. Anna is moved. Then, it’s reported that Tuptim has escaped. He’s not sure what to do. Anna has warmed to the man and tries to explain how the west views women. This leads to her explaining how romance develops in the west, with a man asking a woman “Shall We Dance”, which ends in them dancing together, one of the most magical moments in any Musical.

They are interrupted. Tuptim, caught, is brought before the King. Anna begs for the girl’s life. They are told that her lover is dead. The King is going to whip Tuptim, and suddenly knows he can’t, at least in front of Anna, tosses the whip and departs. Alone with the Kings right-hand man, Kralahome, she tells him she will never understand their land or King. And he tells her she’s destroyed the man.

The ship that brought Anna and her son to Siam is in the harbor. Prince Chu is on his way there when he’s informed that his father is ill. At Anna’s house, she has packed. Lady Thiang sits there, worried, as Prince Chu enters. The King’s heart is giving out. Chu admits he does not know how to be a king. He has thought much of what Anna has taught him, and is not sure what is right anymore. Anna enters, on her way to the ship, and Lady Thiang begs her to see the King, who has written her a letter. It thanks her for her honesty, offer gratitude, and reminds her how difficult a woman she is. In tears, she and her son hurry to see the King.

Louis does not fully understand, and wonder if the King’s being near death makes he and Anna better friends. Anna tells her son that no man has worked harder to be a good King. She enters the King’s study. Lady Thiang, Kralahome, Prince Chu are all there. The King and Anna talk. He knows he’s about to die, and he regrets not seeing her for many months. He begs her again to accept the ring he offered her. She does. His many children enter, and beg her to stay. Anna teaches them to be brave, to whistle at fear, and it moves her so that she finally decides to stay. The King, moved, is gruff, and demands Anna take notes from Prince Chu, the next King of Siam. Chu makes a few mild, timid proclamations. He picks up steam, becoming King. The King passes away as his son and Anna work together.

THE SONGS:

“I Whistle A Happy Tune”, “My Lord And Master”, “Hello, Young Lovers”, “March of the Royal Siamese Children”, “A Puzzlement”, “Getting To Know You”, “We Kiss In A Shadow”,“Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You”, “Something Wonderful”, “Western People Funny”, “I Have Dreamed”, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, “Shall We Dance?”

Hits include “I Whistle A Happy Tune”, “Hello, Young Lovers”, “Getting To Know You”, “We Kiss In The Shadows”, “I Have Dreamed”, Shall We Dance”. (“A Puzzlement”, “The March of the Siamese Children”, and “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” are also all show-stoppers. This is one of R&H’s best scores.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, you can choose to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  But why would you be on this site and choose to do that?  It’s…a puzzlement…

A lovely, impressive show. When I first read the script years ago, it struck me as typical Hammerstein mush. But I saw the show in a good Broadway production starring Lou Diamond Phillips and the wonderful Donna Murphy, and it worked beautifully on stage, so I was wrong. This is one of the very best scripts for a musical ever constructed. The book, as you see in the plot breakdown above, is rich with character interaction and action. The stakes for the characters are clearly and compellingly expressed, which directors and actors love. It’s a fine script, moving and funny, and I would go so far as to say easily the best Hammerstein ever wrote. The score is, of course, filled with hits, but I do find some of the hits a bit too similar in mood, especially “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting To Know You”. But that is really nit-picking, because they work well in context. And you can make them individual in staging and direction.

It’s hard to say that any Rodgers and Hammerstein show is underused. The best known writers of the musical in history, their works can generally said to get fair consideration from producers. Lord knows, Oklahoma, Sound of Music, and Carousel get lots and lots of productions. But their best three shows (my opinion) strangely do not get enough productions, and those are South Pacific, Allegro, and The King & I. Allegro is simply not known well enough, and was experimental for its day, so it was not the huge hit so many of R&H’s shows were. South Pacific and The King & I, masterful examples of the sweeping romantic musical with a message, are underperformed because they are so large. And this show is the biggest of all their shows.

Should The King & I be performed? Yup, by the few companies who can afford to do it, and who are set up to do it well. It should be done often. But because of the sheer size, and the daunting quality of the two lead roles, it won’t be. And that is unfortunate.

A few interesting points about this show. There’s only two ensemble numbers, really, both in Act II, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”. For a big show, this one seriously under-uses its ensemble! They are generally window dressing, cast for look and movement. They just don’t sing much. The numbers are almost all sung by leads, and the two leading roles are extraordinarily well-developed. But the ensemble is not. So a producer that is planning on paying ensemble should whittle down the number to some bare minimum required to create the desired effect.

And yet…the March of the Siamese Children – he says he has 77 children!!! In the words of my people, oy! You can’t have 77 kids in your cast unless you make a deal with a local Elementary School, and then they need to appear Asian. And how many wives does the King have, in the “Western People Funny” number? After all, they’ve provided him 77 heirs! So, what, 25 wives? 30? You can see how ridiculous this is going to be if you go literal! You can’t. Since you can’t, since a smaller number will stand in, you should consider the ways you might go smaller. Can this be done with 15 children? How about 10? How will that impact the staging of the March of the Children? Will the audience then scoff later at the mention of 77 children? Should that line be cut? (I think so.)

Can we get by with 10 kids? (The original Broadway used 15.) How about four wives, including Lady Thiang? (The original used 8, with Lady T.) And four house slaves who double in other roles, as Lun Tha, say? (The original Broadway used 13, not including Lun Tha, plus a dance grouping of 14!) The sea captain could double as Ramsay, maybe? They could be costumed differently enough. Can this cast be under 20? Nope. Not with the kids and wives, even with reduced numbers. Figure 13 speaking roles, 9 more kids, 4 more wives (who are in Uncle Tom), 4 house guards/amazons/slaves/dancers, you still have a cast of 30. This will be a large show, no matter how you cut it. But 30 is cheap[er than 60. No one can produce a show with 60 actors in it, except some colleges and universities. And the costuming for anyone who has that large a talent pool will be prohibitively expensive. A full-sized production of The King & I is the sort of thing some large opera companies could try today, but it’s large even for them!

How about that massive orchestration? Surely there’s middle ground between 24 (minimum) players, and a two piano arrangement of the score. An orchestra of 15, say, or even 12? I’m certain it can be done. Almost all the action takes place in just a few setting. Perhaps these could be creatively consolidated?

Because the bottom line for The King & I is the bottom line. The cost of doing this show must be brought under control for it to get the many productions it deserves. The winners of such a move would be everyone…audiences, production companies, investors. This show is written well enough that it does not need to overwhelm an audience through its physical energy and size, as many other shows must. (Hey! I didn’t even mention “Hello, Dolly”…) Narrowing the size of the piece down would help focus the audience on the splendid characters, the great songs, the fine dialogue, instead of the window dressing.

So my notes below will try to accomplish a reduced-size but enhanced-response version of the show.  And they will fail to some extent.

There are a few strange similarities between this show and Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, another very good musical. The strangest is a scene where a British gunboat fires its cannon on an Asian country. Two musicals that use this idea? It is…a puzzlement.

A reminder – these were real people! Here’s a picture of Prince Chu and his consort.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is actually not that difficult. You’ll need a musical director comfortable with the Rodgers school of writing, but really, that’s not hard. Some of your singers will need to be strong.

But let’s first talk orchestra. So, how small an orchestra would really work for this? I suggest the following: 2 keyboards, percussion, 2 violins, one standing bass, 1 trumpet, 1 clarinet/flute, 1 cello, 1 viola, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone. The keyboards would be used for everything but the lead parts carried by the available instruments. That’s 12. Want to add three? Add a horn, a bassoon, and another keyboard. And listen, while we’re talking, you could do it all with 4 keyboards, drums and a bass. I’m just sayin’…

The King – A baritone with a ton of personality. Cannot be thrown by “pigeon-English”, must embrace it, make real use of it. The amazing thing – he really only sings two songs, and some reprises! The acting is far more important for the role than the singing.

Anna – Has five big numbers, really the singer for the show. Mezzo with some good upper notes. Charismatic, but proper, in how she sings. Again, the acting is as important a the voice.

Lady Thiang – Soprano with mature, full voice, nearly operatic.

Louis – Tenor, young boy, good clear voice.

Prince Chu – Tenor, young adult, good, clear instrument.

The Kralahome – Non-Singing.

Tuptim – Soprano, full, almost operatic voice, expressive.

Sir Edward Ramsay – Non-Signing.

Lun Tha – Tenor, young male with full, nearly operatic voice, must sound right with Tuptim.

Ensemble – The original had some 13 speaking roles, and some 50 ensemble!!!

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

Oddly enough, there’s very little dance here, almost nothing a director could not handle – except for

“Western People Funny”, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, and “Shall We Dance?” And these three numbers will need a choreographer at the helm, especially the final two. “Uncle Tom” is a massive number, the big set piece of the show. It must be thoroughly conceptualized by the Director and Choreographer before rehearsals start, to even have a fair shot at it. It will use your entire cast except a few characters who watch. It is a mime/dance with an Asian theater slant, very ornate, detailed, and highly creative. You will also need to work closely with the designers on this number. It all must work together, and should be an utter delight.

The King’s wives changing into western clothes – without undergarments – there’s a challenge and I’ve seen productions that simply cut this number. Of everything in this show, this number is the least needed. We already get the differences in culture, through the example placed in front of us the entire evening – Anna and the King of Siam. This is more of the same, going for a bit of a laugh and an opening burst of energy for Act II. It might be fun to see them dance in and out from behind screens as they sing. It might be fun if the screens moved on their own. It also might be an idea to skip this and just move on.

“Shall we Dance” is one of the most famous moments in Musical Theater. East takes West, Man takes woman into his arms, and they bounce with great abandon about the stage, until both are breathless and in awe of each other. This is the moment we realize that love is in bloom – a love that will never be consummated. The dance should feel like a whirlwind, but leave the actors capable of playing on. And there’s no where to hide, it’s just your two leads, so they must know how to do this dance.

There are other numbers you may consider involving a Choreographer in. “I Whistle A Happy Tune” could show Anna and her son surrounded for the first time by Siam, a strange place, and the differences in culture could be shown in movement. A Director can probably do the duties, but this show could certainly benefit from movement.

“March of the Royal Siamese Children” is a chance to get some smiles and laughs as kids are kids, the same world over. This number usually stops the show, but it is largely about concept and a Director can usually take care of it. The youngest child running to her father ion fear of the great white woman, and him sternly but lovingly sending her on, etc. These are children, they do as children do, and that’s where the entertainment value of the song is found. And they should be adorable.

The entire show is a melding of East and West, and this will be true of some of the dance. Specifically, we are in Siam (now Thailand) in 1860 or so. Some research into native forms of dance and theater would be advisable.

CASTING CONCERNS:

The King – 40-60, mature, extremely charismatic, Asian. Must have a fair acting range, from real anger, to frustration, self-doubt, ridiculous pride, affection. Must slip in and out of moments and emotions with facility. Must radiate command, he has been a King from birth, virtually. Must deeply care for his people, his ways, but attempt to understand the rest of the world in a genuine effort to be a part of the global community. A difficult man, fussy, temper-prone, with with a fantastically good heart. Tireless. A physical presence. Intelligent. Cast for acting and type, then voice, then dance. And yes, he must dance, a polka-like waltz, and do so very well. A star!

Anna – 35-45, a mature English woman, very well educated and spoken. Determined, self-aware, blessed with humor and a gift for loving others. Men find her desirable, and so she must be. Charismatic in a quiet, steady way. Has firm belief in her own rights as a woman, and in the place women should be held by the world. A fish out of water, surrounded as she is by Siam, with the will, the smarts, the passion to make it work for her and her son, and then for Siam itself. Cast for acting and type, voice, and then dance, but must do all three very well. A star!

Lady Thiang – A bit younger than the King, matronly but lovely. Deeply concerned for, and quietly in love with, her husband. She will go to nearly any length to preserve the man, and Siam. Wise in the way of the world and of women and men. A quiet leader, a benevolent manipulator behind the scenes. Cast for voice, acting and type.

Louis – Around age 10, and ages a bit during the story. Has a fair amount of material. A fine actor, very British and proper, will be needed. Definitely Anna’s son. Smart, interested, clever, but a bit naïve at times. Cast for type, acting, then voice. He’ll need to do all of these well.

Prince Chu – Late teens, just becoming a young man. Handsome, a lot like his father, raised to rule but increasingly unsure of himself and the world around him, until the very end of the play. Cast for acting and type, voice.

The Kralahome – 35-65. Stern, old-school, serves the King at all costs. A patriot of sorts. Cast for acting and type.

Tuptim – Just becoming a woman, about 18-20 in appearance. Beautiful, Asian, desirable, with a beautiful voice. Cast for type, voice, then acting.

Sir Edward Ramsay – A bit older than Anna, proper but loveable, well-intentioned, has a sense of humor. But is lonely, and truly is interested in Anna as a wife. A “Sir” and all that meant in 1860. Cast for acting and type.

Lun Tha – About Tuptim’s age, handsome, appealing, intense, a bit humorless. Not much of an acting role. Cast for voice, type.

Ensemble – There are some Brits needed, the sea captain, a staff member with Ramsay perhaps. (Could be the captain, and not even disguised. He works for the government of England.) The rest of the ensemble must at least appear to be Asian. All must do some singing and dance, so cast for look, voice and movement.

SETS:

Almost all the action takes place in the palace. Play the ship on the apron, if you have a proscenium stage, and then open the main drape to reveal the King”s palace. It can all happen in one space, and the actors can enter and use it, carrying appropriate props.

This would narrow the show down to the ship – a few barrels and the end of a gangplank extended to the stage from somewhere offstage, perhaps, and the palace.

And Anna’s house, which we see rarely. Perhaps a drop at the center of the stage, or a setting of little complexity can be lowered at stage center from the rafters, cutting off view of the palace behind, and raising when no longer needed. It should be a brick house, as promised.

The palace should have a large central room, perhaps a shadowed hallway nearby, an exit into a garden area in the moonlight. Effectively one large playing area, two small ones. Approaching the show this way allows your money and time to be placed into the one set where almost all the action takes place. That said, the look of that room must be versatile. It must become a sort of throne room, then the throne can be removed (wheeled or rolled off) and books and a big globe rolled in, as it becomes a study. In Act II, it is a dressing room for the wives, and then the screens used are flown out, revealing the party, perhaps. And we come to Uncle Tom, with something like floor to ceiling banners, or towers, for the actors to hide behind, or enter center stage from. And these should move to re-set the playing area during the number, as needed. (You’ll want to work closely with Lighting on this part of the show.)

Some research into the period in Siam (Thailand) will be necessary. You’ll want to emphasize in design how “foreign” Siam is to western eyes, this will be a huge part of what the set must accomplish. Even the color and shape of Anna’s dress should seem wildly out of place.

COSTUMES:

A huge job, even with reduced cast. Anna wears full British dress circa 1860, and it’s important her dresses be billowy, hooped out, as the King’s wives think she is shaped that way.

Euro Men wear tuxes and top hats.

Siamese men and women.

The King, when not in western garb. An actual picture of the man.

(Mr. Brynner looked far more charismatic, I have to say.) The differences should be accented in color and design, to make the culture shock for both sides more real. Some costumes will be easy to find at costume shops, like Anna’s dresses, or Lewis’ little suit. but it is possible you’ll end up building many of the Siamese costumes.

PROPS:

A big British Bible, a ring, Anna and Lewis’ bags, the King’s crown, Prince Chu’s crown, the letter to England, the various props for Uncle Tom (as determined by the Director and Choreographer). Some of the props will be exotic, and may need to be built.

LIGHTING:

Should be beautiful, and able to direct attention inside the palace, since the likelihood is the one room will serve as many rooms, throughout the bulk of the play. The lighting for “Uncle Tom” should be exotic, unusual, perhaps even in motion. And yet we must see those characters who are watching and reacting, as well. Likely to be a show rich in mood swings and light cues. Make the dock feel like a dock, outdoors, as we will rarely be outdoors again. Tuptim and Lun Tha’s garden scene should be moonlit and the height of romantic. Then when she’s caught and he dies, the audience will feel a greater loss.

MAKE-UP:

It’s all in the period, so for Anna, it is defined, a bit rosy and slightly overstated, with perhaps powder to make her appear somewhat pale. The Thai women should be made-up according to their station in life, and some research should be done. But all of it must work for stage.

This may oddly be a point where the touch, for Anna’s period make-up may be a bit mask-like.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, The King, Anna

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a wonderful show. It may also be, sadly, on the verge of extinction.

How can I say that? The King & I was a Broadway staple for decades, receiving as many as eight revivals! That’s probably more revivals than any other musical on Broadway. Why? Because this show is definitively a Broadway show. It can’t be done in most theaters or by most companies. The resources it requires are too much. And Broadway costs far more today than it used to. The last revival of this show on Broadway was in 1996, and at the time, it cost about 5.5 million. I saw it, and it was beautiful indeed, and special. It won the Tony for best revival, as well as 3 other Tony Awards. The critics basically loved it and welcomed it with wide opened arms.

That was 17 years ago, by far the longest stretch of time between Broadway revivals for what I think is one of R&H’s best shows. Why so long? Because it’s too damned big. Today, that 5.5 million would be well over 10, approaching 15 million. It would need to run a very long time to recoup its investment. And revivals rarely run that long.

When R&H wrote this, they were at the peak of their careers, the most impressive writing careers perhaps in the history of Broadway. They were their own producers, and didn’t need approval for a big budget huge cast etcetera etcetera. So they wrote an oh-my-God-BIG show. And a beautiful show, at that.

So where is the future of this show? It will be with companies that are large, well-funded, and looking for a triumph, and who have access to two stars of real ability.

In the meantime, the play was tuned into an animated cartoon. And why not, as it costs effectively the same amount of money to make an animated version of this tale as of any tale. Most people who saw it thought it was pretty bad.

In 2013, a TV version of The Sound Of Music is being aired in December. Perhaps The King & I will follow?

Or some smart Broadway producer will find the right way to do the show and return it to its Broadway home?

Or will it be in concert versions, no sets, no costumes, maybe 5-10 actors and an orchestra? That would be better than nothing, though I doubt the bits about Euro dresses and “Uncle Tom” will work well.

Or will your company will create the next great production of it? If you have that big stage, the right designers, the money, the stars…?