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The King and I Broadway Originals

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Album Review

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's fifth musical, The King and I, was their first to be designed as a star vehicle — written at the behest of British stage star Gertrude Lawrence to mark her return to the New York musical stage after ten years in 1951. Rodgers and Hammerstein were somewhat hamstrung by the principal cast members. Neither Lawrence nor Yul Brynner, a television director hired to play the part of the king, had much of a singing voice. The songwriters solved this problem by giving the rangy songs — "We Kiss in a Shadow," "Something Wonderful," and "I Have Dreamed" — to the secondary characters. As the star, Lawrence had to have several numbers, but Rodgers and Hammerstein played upon her role as a teacher to give her two simple tunes to be sung to children — "I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Getting to Know You" — as well as a patter song expressing her anger with the king, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" Even "Hello, Young Lovers" and her duet with Brynner, "Shall We Dance?," were pleasant ditties rather than demanding theater songs. And yet, the musical restrictions made for a highly enjoyable, pop-oriented score with slight Oriental touches. "Hello, Young Lovers" and "We Kiss in a Shadow" became minor hits, but the most memorable songs over time ended up being "I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Getting to Know You," which became children's standards. The original Broadway cast album just missed topping the bestseller charts and remained listed there for over a year. It has remained in print through various reissues over the years, including a 50th-anniversary edition in 1993 and a 24-bit remastering in 2000.


Born: 04 July 1898 in London, England

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

Gertrude Lawrence was one of Great Britain's brightest theatrical stars during the first half of the 20th century. A lifelong friend and colleague of Noel Coward, Lawrence's forte was sophisticated musical comedy, where she exuded a lively, charismatic stage presence that easily overcame her shortcomings as a singer. She was sometimes criticized for a small vocal range and a tendency to sing flat, but her emotional commitment and flat-out star power earned her the approval of most of the musical...
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