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 it.
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.Palo Alto Players is currently showing their version of this infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical through May 10th at the Lucie Stern Theater. The show features, Kerie Darner as Ana, and Don Masuda as The King. Director Bill Olson, presents a very tame, funny, and family friendly King and I. Lots of nice music, a beautiful set, and fun performances make this a pleasant theater experience. Personally, I would have really been excited if Players had taken a risk and made the King darker and more menacing, and if they had created some real chemistry between the King and Ana. It was all just too Disneyesque for my taste. There was a moment of raw emotion near the end of Act II when the King nearly pummeled a young concubine with a bull whip, but it all ended pretty suddenly.
If you're looking for something fun to do that will leave you feeling cheery during these difficult times, go see this show. There are a dozen or so of local children who ham it up and provide numerous cute and hilarious moments. Bring the kids and grandma. They will love it!
Now through May 10th.
For tickets call (650)329-0891.