1951 Original Broadway Production
Anticipation was high for the opening night of The King and I at Broadway’s St. James Theatre on March 29, 1951. The creative team had a challenge: how to follow South Pacific, the show that was a monster hit, winning award after award and catching the zeitgeist of post-Word War II America? The idea came from Gertrude Lawrence, who saw in Anna Leonowens a role she thought she could play, as long as Rodgers and Hammerstein would write it for her.
The resulting show was hailed by Hammerstein’s former collaborator Sigmund Romberg as “a monumental piece of work,” and Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called it “an original and beautiful excursion… done with impeccable taste by two artists and brought to life with a warm, romantic score, idiomatic lyrics and some exquisite dancing.” Some critics compared it unfavorably to South Pacific, often in the very same reviews in which they raved about the new show!
The original Broadway production of The King and I went on to win five Tony Awards – Best Actress (Gertrude Lawrence), Best Featured Actor (Yul Brynner), Best Costumes, Best Scenic Design and Best Musical – and was performed 1,246 times. It has since been revived four times on Broadway: twice with the original King, Yul Brynner, and twice in new, modern productions. All four productions earned Tony Awards.
Decca records recorded the Original Broadway Cast album of The King and I in New York City on April 16 and 17, 1951; the album was released on May 28. The same year, a “cover” studio album featuring Patrice Munsel and Robert Merrill was released, along with Frank Sinatra’s versions of “Hello, Young Lovers,” “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” The cast album featured Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, with the children’s parts sung by adult cast members. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in the year 2000.