When a musical has been born out of a real-life story, which became a memoir, novel, book and film, you know you are in safe hands. And that’s the case behind the multi Tony award-winning “The King and I,” a firm favourite in the world of musicals, which has its European premiere at the London Palladium (to Sep 29, 2018).
The intriguing plot has enjoyed many incarnations: based on the memoirs of a British governess, it inspired Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” then later a film of the same name, and in 1951 the Rodgers and Hammerstein Academy Award-winning musical, “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1951, and premiered in London at the Palladium in 1979, and now things have gone full circle. The most recent version has enjoyed a sell-out stint at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, in 2015, which continued on a USA tour. The show won four Tony Awards, including best musical revival. Now it’s the turn of London to host the iconic musical.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, it follows the story of Anna Leonowens, a widowed British schoolteacher who was summoned to teach the wives and many children of the King of Siam (Thailand). While living at the palace, Anna begins an unconventional relationship with the charismatic royal—with an unconsummated, unspoken love at its heart.
The performance is best known for its Richard Rodgers’ music and Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics, so the London musical, of course, features a score of classics such as "Getting To Know You," "I Whistle A Happy Tune" and "Shall We Dance?".
The London version stars the same actors as the Broadway show. Musical royalty Kelli O’Hara, one of Broadway’s finest leading ladies, reprises the role of Anna. Alongside her playing the King is the Japanese film star Ken Watanabe, who has starred in “The Last Samurai” (2003) and “Inception” (2010). Both are making their West End debuts.
Watanabe says, "I started my career on stage, which is a great feeling. But 'The King and I' is special for me as it’s my first whole play in English, playing in a foreign country. I wanted to try an authentic, traditional stage in the West End."
So how is acting in the West End different? "Because Anna is an English woman, the audience sees the show through Anna’s eyes – there is also a lot of humour in the musical, which an English audience might enjoy more than Americans."