THE KING & I Starring Kelli O'Hara Headed to Lincoln Center?
Michael Riedel reports in today's New York Post that Lincoln Center Theater "wants the Beaumont for its next big production - a revival of THE KING AND I starring Kelli O'Hara." BroadwayWorld.com first reported back in 2011 that the theatre was considering a Bartlett Sher helmed revival of the classic show. O'Hara is currently starring opposite Matthew Broderick in NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT.
In THE KING AND I, East versus West makes for a dramatic, richly textured and ultimately uplifting tale of enormous fascination. It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, having been summoned by the King to serve as tutor to his many children and wives. The King is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna's assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story. Along with the dazzling score, the incomparable Jerome Robbins ballet, 'The Small House of Uncle Thomas,' is one of the all-time marvels of the musical stage.
Kelli O'Hara has unequivocally established herself as one of Broadway's great leading ladies. She starred in the Tony Award®-winning revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center, enrapturing audiences and critics alike with her soulful and complex interpretation of Nellie Forbush, and garnering a third Tony® nomination. This fall, Kelli starred alongside Sam Waterson in The Public Theater's production of King Lear. Broadway credits include: Pajama Game (Tony®, Drama Desk, OCC Nominations), The Light in the Piazza (Tony®, Drama Desk Nominations), Sweet Smell of Success, Follies and Dracula. Kelli has worked regionally and Off Broadway in Sunday in the Park with George at Reprise, My Life With Albertine at Playwright's Horizons, Beauty at the La Jolla Playhouse and as Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing at City Center Encores!. In addition to her critically acclaimed performance as Eliza Doolittle in the New York Philharmonic production of My Fair Lady, Kelli's concerts span from Carnegie Hall to Capitol Hill and in between. This year she sang at the Kennedy Center Honors as part of the Barbara Cook tribute. Among her film and television credits are Sex & The City 2, "Blue Bloods," Martin Scorsese's short The Key to Reserva opposite Simon Baker, The Dying Gaul starring Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott, 2 NBC pilots, "Alexander Hamilton" (PBS), "NUMB3RS" (CBS), "All My Children," the animated series "Car Talk," and numerous live performances on national television shows. Kelli's voice can be heard on numerous cast recordings. Her second solo album, Always is currently available on Ghostlight Records.
According to the show's official background, THE KING AND I opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951, where it proceeded to run for three years, racking up 1,246 performances. It received five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and honors for both of its stars. Very quickly the allure of THE KING AND I began to spread worldwide. Valerie Hobson and Herbert Lom starred in the original London production, and the musical scored great successes in Australia, Japan, and throughout Europe-from LE ROI ET MOI in Brussels to DER KONIG UND ICH in Berlin.
In 1956 Twentieth Century Fox-which had presented the 1946 version starring Harrison and Dunne-released the motion picture version of THE KING AND I under the careful eye of studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck. "More than your eyes have ever seen," promised the posters-"More than your heart has ever known!" THE KING AND I starred Deborah Kerr as Anna (with her musical voice provided by Marni Nixon) and Yul Brynner recreating his role as The King. An immediate success, THE KING AND I became the second-highest grossing film of the year and was also critically acclaimed; nominated for nine Academy Awards, it received five, including the Best Actor Award to Brynner.
Yul Brynner's relationship to THE KING AND I is unique in the annals of theatre. Over the course of 34 years he played The King more than 4,600 times, first on stage, then on the big screen and then on television (co-starring with Samantha Eggar in the short-lived series, ANNA AND THE KING in the early '70s.) He brought THE KING AND I back to Broadway for two separate, triumphant engagements; the latter, the culmination of his farewell tour as The King, was presented in 1985, the final year of his life. At the conclusion of that run Mr. Brynner received a special Tony Award for his achievements.
Ultimately, the musical that was conceived by one star, and made a star out of another, has transcended its star vehicle status to live on as a classic in its own right with two starring roles. In addition to the legendary Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, a host of great names have played these star parts over the years. The honor roll includes, as Anna: Susan Hampshire, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Cook, Jan Clayton, Jeannette MacDonald, Betsy Palmer, Eileen Brennan, Betty White, Virginia McKenna and Florence Henderson. The King, meanwhile, has been played by, among others, Darren McGavin, AlfrEd Drake, Cameron Mitchell, Farley Granger, Ricardo Montalban, Pernell Roberts, Theodore Bikel, Stacey Keach, and Rudolf Nureyev.
In 1992 Philips Classics released a studio cast recording of THE KING AND I. Under the direction of John Mauceri and featuring the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the all-star recording was led by Julie Andrews (Anna) and Ben Kingsley (The King), with Lea Salonga (Tuptim), Peabo Bryson (Lun Tha), Marilyn Horne (Lady Thiang) and cameo appearances by Martin Sheen and Roger Moore.
Earlier that season, a new production of THE KING AND I starring Hayley Mills began touring Australia. The director was Christopher Renshaw, the designers were Brian Thomson for sets and Roger Kirk for costumes, and the producer was John Frost of the Gordon/Frost Organisation. Distinctive and unusual, this production caught the eye of composer Rodgers' daughter Mary, who declared it the best KING AND I she had ever seen. Within a short time the wheels were set in motion to bring this production 10,000 miles up to Broadway.
It arrived four years later, opening at the Neil Simon Theatre on April 11, 1996, starring Tony Award winner Donna Murphy as Anna and film star Lou Diamond Phillips as The King. Renshaw, Thomson and Kirk repeated their assignments, and Frost's primary co-producers were Dodger Productions. Hailed by the critics and public alike, THE KING AND I swept the triple crown of Broadway honors that spring, winning the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics' Circle Awards for Best Musical Revival; Murphy received her second Tony, and both set and costume designers won Tony Awards as well. During its second year on Broadway the leads were replaced by Faith Prince and Kevin Gray. Prince herself had been replaced by Marie Osmond (in her Broadway debut) by the time THE KING AND I closed on Broadway in February,1998; its tally of 807 performances made it the longest-running R&H revival in Broadway history.
A U.S. National Tour, starring Hayley Mills for its first year, opened in Minneapolis in April of 1997; the following year Ms. Mills was replaced, first by Marie Osmond and finally Maureen McGovern. A London version of this production, starring Elaine Paige, opened at the legendary Palladium in May of 2000, where it played for nearly two years before embarking on a U.K. National Tour into 2002.
Today, THE KING AND I still reigns, its majesty still shines. With its legacy assured, we leave the final word to Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1956 he wrote to his partner, Richard Rodgers: I am convinced that this is our best work. I have a kind of humble feeling of not knowing how we did it. It has more wisdom as well as heart than any other musical play by anybody. It will remain 'modern' long after any of our other plays.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/WM Photos