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The King and I

The King and I is a musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, with a script based on Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the autobiographical story of Anna Leonowens, who became governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s.

The musical opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951 and starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, and a then mostly unknown Yul Brynner as the King. The show was filmed in 1956 with Brynner re-creating his role opposite Deborah Kerr. Brynner won an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal, and Kerr was nominated as Best Actress. Brynner reprised the role twice on Broadway in 1977 and 1985, and in a short-lived TV sitcom in 1972, Anna and the King.

A television series, Anna and the King, was created in 1972, giving credit to Margaret Landon for the creation.

In 1946, Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne starred in the film Anna and the King of Siam; and in 1999, 20th Century Fox released a non-musical remake, named Anna and the King. This version starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. The two non-musical versions contain considerable variations from the original stories, from the musical, and from one another.

Also in 1999, an animated version of The King and I was released by Warner Bros.; it was also a musical, but was unrelated to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version.

Thai attitudes

All the filmed versions of The King and I are banned in Thailand, and the stage version has never been produced there. The Thai government regards the story as historically inaccurate (which it certainly is), and as an insult to the memory of King Mongkut, and thus offensive to all Thais. Since the films have never been shown in Thailand, however, it is hard to know how many Thais would really be offended by them.

In 1997 the Thai Ambassador to the United States, Nitya Pibulsonggram , wrote to the Boston Herald: "The Thai people find The King and I in its movie and Broadway play forms offensive because it caricatures His Majesty King Mongkut in such a denigrating and condescending manner... It is stunning to sit through a performance of The King and I and to see not only the King, but all the Thai people, portrayed... as childlike, simple, and hopelessly unable to cope with the arrival of westerners. The British, however, are portrayed as superior beings, gently trying to uplift their na´ve hosts. The wonderful music and the visual treats of the production camouflage the real insult that lies at the core of the play."

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Last updated: 08-17-2005 14:04:50
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