Something wonderful is happening at Milton Keynes Theatre: audiences are getting to know The King and I thanks to a sumptuous revival by The Lincoln Center Theater.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious golden age musical first opened on Broadway in 1951 and has been whistling its own happy tune ever since.
Many people have experienced this classic story of contrasting cultures through the 1956 film. Broadway star Yul Brynner played the wilful monarch and actress Deborah Kerr — assisted by ghost singer Marni Nixon — was Anna, a widowed English schoolteacher summoned to Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s to tutor his harem of wives and many children.
Even if you have never seen the film, you will recognise the songs. ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’, ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’ are just a few of the toe-tapping tunes you can expect to find yourself humming after the show. Perfectly pitched for musical storytelling, their melodies and lyrics are thoroughly entertaining while delivering profound insights into the characters and events.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I has four Tony Awards to its name and is touring the UK following a sell-out season at the London Palladium. It is directed by Bartlett Sher, who sensitively handles the monumental clash of cultures at the heart of this period piece.
His revival stays faithful to the dated narrative of ancient royal protocol and imperial mentality. But it somehow feels timeless. And this is probably because it uses old-fashioned glamour, light humour and an operatic quality to emphasise the enduring themes of power, tolerance and progress.