Rodger and Hammerstein’s The King and I, produced by Trafalgar Entertainment Group and co-produced by BookMyShow, has been winning the hearts of West End lovers worldwide. This four-time Tony award-winning musical is remembered as one of the best musical revivals that tells the story of Anna and the King of Siam. In the 1951 original Broadway production, the famous 1956 film, and the 1996 revival, their relationship and chemistry is enviable. But this tale is much more than a heart-warming romance.
Anna is a British schoolteacher hired by the King of Siam to teach his wives and children. The King, who is considered to be a barbarian by rulers of the West, becomes determined to usher Siam into the modern world. As he takes Anna on as his advisor the East meets West. They begin to teach each other about understanding, respect, and love that can transcend the greatest of differences while both keeping a firm grip on their own traditions and values. Underneath all those conflict-ridden differences lies the tumultuous yet blossoming relationship that develops between the King and Anna.
And for lead actors Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara, this is not too far from real-life experiences. Watanabe is a Japanese actor who, despite his many Japanese stage credits, is stepping onto the Broadway and West End stage for the first time. Anna introduces the Siamese king to a Western point of view, and as Watanabe puts it, “Anna wants to teach him about Western culture and Western feelings, but she understands Asian culture and feelings. It’s a really interesting element of the story because it does allow both types to exist.” O’Hara also acknowledges the relevance of the character’s experiences to that of her own saying, “The divide that we have as two people in reality is so fitting to the divide we have in the story. Ken’s a film actor, so he already comes from a different world. And then he comes from all the way across the world.”
Apart from the lives of its actors the Rodger and Hammerstein’s story can also be compared to the larger real-world implication of racism, sexism, and a moral divide. The King and I addresses the conflict of traditional versus modern and progress versus custom. This conflict comes through perfectly through a subplot from the musical. British officials send an envoy to Siam to investigate whether the country requires a Western influence, which in today’s context can be referred to as installing a democracy. “All small countries have the same problems and concerns about being protected from larger countries and their influences.” Watanabe says.
The King and I sheds light on a 1950s tale from a 21st-century perspective. And we see that the story has evolved with time, especially through Kelli O’Hara’s role as Anna. In O’Hara’s rendition, she becomes much more than a love interest for the King transforming into a woman that fights for her rightful place and refuses to be treated any lesser. She is a loving widow, a passionate school teacher, a protective mother, and a staunch feminist.
Overall, this grandiose musical that features the most talented artists and top-notch production proves that a big budget can be used to send across a big message.