Originally conceived by Gertrude Lawrence as a vehicle for
her return to the musical stage, The King and I was based
on Margaret Landon's novel, Anna and the King of Siam.
After Cole Porter declined the project, Miss Lawrence turned
to Rodgers and Hammerstein who quickly agreed to write and produce
The story is set in Bangkok in the early 1860s and tells the
story of Anna, an adventurous Englishwoman hired to serve as
governess and tutor to King Mongkut's many children. Although
Anna has many quarrels with the dictator, the two eventually
fall in love, and her influence on the king helps to democratize
the country. The role of the king was turned down by the likes
of Rex Harrison, Noël Coward and Alfred Drake. Finally,
a virtually unknown actor named Yul Brynner was given the part
and through the sheer force of his personality, without any change
in the script, managed to switch the dramatic focus of the play
from Anna to the King. Brynner's name has since become virtually
synonymous with the role of King Mongkut.
The King and I opened at the St. James Theatre on March
29, 1951 and ran for 1,246 performances. After Miss Lawrence's
death in 1952, the part of Anna was played by Constance Carpenter,
Annamary Dickey and Patricia Morison. In 1956, Yul Brynner starred
in the film version with Deborah Kerr. A major Broadway revival
was staged in 1996 with Lou Diamond Phillips playing the part
of the King.