Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Complicated Depiction of Southeast Asian Peoples and Culture

Authored by Kaitlyn Jeffries

Sandy Wilson’s review of the West End revisal of The King and I, printed in Plays and Players, Vol. 21, No. 3, December 1973 issue. Featured in the photograph printed in the article, Peter Wyngarde and Sally Ann Howes performing “Shall We Dance.”

The King and I is a musical theatre play, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II that originally premiered on Broadway at St. James Theatre. Mongkut, King of Siam (now Thailand), hired a British tutor, Mrs. Anna Leonowens to teach his children English. A widow, Anna tutors while simultaneously attempting to humanize their cultural difference and broaden their world-view beyond Siam. Anna endeavors to remove Siam’s perceived barbaric image by assimilating the family into Western culture and customs. Anna and Mongkut engage in a short lived romance, and after subsequent family turmoil with one of the King’s many wives, Anna wants to leave Siam. On his deathbed, Mongkut asks Anna to watch over his son, Chulalongkorn, as he begins his rule.

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