Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The King and I and I

Why I am Looking Forward to Seeing (and a Little Bit Afraid of) a Broadway Revival of 
one of My Favorite Musicals 
By Lauren Yarger
I have been in love with the King and I for years -- almost 50 to be exact -- ever since my teacher gathered us together to explain that we, along with another second-grade class, would play the Siamese children in our elementary school's spring presentation of the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

A musical? This was the first I had ever heard of such a thing. It sounded like fun. We were given copies of "Getting to Know You" and told to memorize it prior to weekly rehearsals that would start the next day.

The news that her very white, curly blonde-haired daughter would play a daughter of King Mongkut of Siam thrilled my mother, a former actress and dancer, who loved this musical in particular. She whipped out the film's 33RPM album recording to prove it.

There, on its cover (you can view the image here, was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen: Deborah Kerr, with her flaming red hair, wearing a gorgeous copper satin gown (designed by Irene Sharaff, who won an Oscar) with off-the-shoulder puffed sleeves. Her skin was flawless and her hands looked like they had been sculpted for a delicate porcelain figurine. She took my breath away.

Then I saw him. Yul Brynner, clad in regal red and gold, striking a pose with his foot on Anna's chair and pointing at the heavens with an authoritative manner. I wanted to know all about them and my mother told me the story as we listened to the recording. As luck would have it, that year the film made its debut on national television and my mother relented to my constant begging to be allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch it. To this day, the 20th Century Fox musical theme fills me with inexplicable joy.

At rehearsal, we discovered that I was the only child who had memorized the song. My teacher, Mrs. Rogers (I thought it was very exciting that she had the same last name as the composer, though later discovered a different spelling) asked if I would sing it for the class.  I stood in front of my classmates, belted from the heart and was greeted by thunderous applause (well, at least that's the way my mind remembers the thrilling experience).

"That was wonderful," my teacher enthused. "Do you want to be a Broadway singer when you grow up?

"Yes!" I shouted thinking, "People actually get paid to do this?!"

We rehearsed our "March of the Siamese Children" for weeks, then practiced moving to our assigned places on stage where we were to sit cross-legged observing the action at court. We adorned ourselves with little crepe hats and colorful sashes that somehow were supposed to transition us into Siamese children. There were to be performances during the day for the rest of the school and at night for parents and the community.

There were only a few speaking parts available to us. One little boy, who was considered in this pre-politically correct era to be somewhat Asian in appearance (I honestly can't pick him out in the photo above), was given a number of lines as the King's Crown Prince Chulalongkorn.  I (second from right, second row from front) was given the line, "Please do not go away," which I was supposed to say to the 8th grader,  Linda Hull, playing Anna who was thinking about heading back to England.  I practiced my line day and night, determined to deliver it even better than the little girl in the movie did when she got to say it to Deborah Kerr.

The big day came! On my cue, I walked over to my mark and delivered the line with all the actor's chops my 7-year-old actress self could muster. The audience roared.

"Wow, maybe I really could do this for a living," I thought, retaking my seat. "That line wasn't even funny, but they still are rolling in the aisles."

Later, of course, I discovered that the laughter had not been promoted by from my thespian skill, but buy the fact that I had delivered my line with my undies in full view to all of Siam. Apparently my crinoline dress had failed to lower itself when I rose from that cross-legged position.

TIME JUMP forward a few years and you would find me  producing drama in a new elementary school after we moved to a new town and recruiting neighborhood children for an annual Mother's Day Play directed by yours truly. I had quickly discerned that my talent on the stage was limited (regardless of whether anyone could see my underwear) , but I seemed pretty skilled at producing, writing and directing... Years later I would direct a PTA sponsored Broadway program to offer music and art when they were cut from my kids' elementary school budget. Ironically, my son's class presented "Getting to Know You."

TIME JUMP to 1977, my senior year of high school, when Yul Brynner starred in a revival of The King and I on Broadway. I had seats about fourth row center. Imagine the happiest images of your life, the sounds of the music you love most on earth and a person you have loved playing the role just a few feet away from you. It truly was one of the most amazing theater experiences of my life -- until the king died.

I had seen him die often (I have no idea how many times I have watched the film), but there was something very real about his dying right in front of me. I started to sob and couldn't stop. I was so moved, I couldn't get out of my seat until an usher threw me out.

TIME JUMP  just short of a decade later when I saw Brynner in a disappointing tour of the musical. The tempo of the music sped up to shorten the run time of the show as Brynner was battling cancer at that point. At some shows, he didn't sing "A Puzzlement." He did at mine and I was grateful, but I spent most of the time wanting to strangle the conductor because I don't like people messing with The King and I -- even by a quarter note. Shall I tell you what I think of you?

TIME JUMP to 1996 when another revival starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy (who won the Tony) made its way to Broadway. Friends assumed I would be first in line at the box office, but I am kind of scared to see versions that might be different from the norm because it really does drive me crazy. The posters featured a modern elephant that made me uncomfortable. Where was Anna in her dress on the seat with the king pointing skyward?

They performed "Shall We Dance" at the Tony Awards and I thought, "Well, maybe...." Just then a curtain opened behind them and a bunch of Siamese children sat bopping along to the music.

"No! No! That's not right!" I heard myself shout as my husband rushed to grab a brown paper bag to aid my hyperventilation.....

TIME JUMP to tomorrow night when the latest Broadway revival opens at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, this one starring Kelli O'Hara (love her voice) and  Ken Watanabe (good actor -- "The last Samurai" -- but can he sing? And speak English? I hear not so well, so will "A Puzzlement" be puzzling? I am whistling a happy tune.....)

Bringing some calm is the fact that Bartlett Sher is directing. His genius behind Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific (which also starred O'Hara) brought that show alive for me. I trust he will take good care of The King and I for me. Catherine Zuber, whose designs I often wish were in my closet, already has come through with the dress (see clip above).

Choreography had me a bit concerned. Talented Christopher Gatelli is in charge of musical staging. In Newsies, he had 25-year-old news "boys" flipping incessantly across the stage and in Godspell, the disciples jumped on trampolines. If the Siamese children start doing flips, I am going to flip out. Promotional materials say the choreography is based on the original by Jerome Robbins, so here's hoping!

Isn't it amazing how one musical can have such a long run in one person's life? Theater is a wonderful, life-changing force. I am thankful for a mom who took time to sit and listen to a whole soundtrack with me while filling in the story. I am grateful for a dad who took me to numerous Broadway shows when I was growing up. I am grateful to Mrs. Rogers for allowing our class to participate in that program and for Berkeley Terrace Elementary School in Irvington, NJ for offering an elementary school spring musical -- something practically unheard of today,  etc., etc. etc.

And  I am grateful to Lincoln Center for giving me another chance to see magic on stage this Sunday when I will be there to review. I am surprised to find how much I am looking forward to

hearing the score again (for perhaps the 4,000th time?). A 29-piece orchestra will play the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett. Good call Musical Director Ted Sperling!

Something wonderful!

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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