Fans of the recent Broadway revival of The King and I -- and those who knew the original 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the 1970s and 80s revivals with Yul Brynner, the cast albums or Hollywood film -- are in for some surprises if they attend the new animated film version, opening in movie theatres nationwide March 19.
Filled with new characters, changes from the original script and story and using only part of the famous score, this new version is not your grandfather's King and I.
Among changes from the original script and score, are:
* A teen version of the King's son, Prince Chululongkorn, kickboxes and falls in love with "servant" (not concubine), Tuptim. They sing "I Have Dreamed," but "We Kiss in a Shadow" has been cut. Lun Tha, who is Tuptim's love interest in the original, is not in the animated version.
* The King's prime minister, the Krahalome, is now an evil sorcerer who has telekinetic powers. As the King sings "A Puzzlement," the Krahalome sends giant statues to crush him. * The Krahalome's lackey is a short, overweight drone with an accent and a stereotypical keyboard of teeth.
* The ship bringing teacher Anna and her son, Louis, to Siam is attacked by a fire-breathing sea serpent (representing a storm) conjured by the Krahalome. Anna's response is "Whistle a Happy Tune," sung on the tempest-tossed, sea-washed deck of the ship.
* The King rescues Tuptim and the Prince from a raging river by shinnying down a rope (secured by his pet panther) from the hot-air balloon.
* Non-speaking, non-singing animal characters include Tusker the baby white elephant and Moonshee, the pet monkey of Anna's son, Louis.
* Lady Thiang, the senior wife of the King, has been cut, as has "Something Wonderful." The King only has a handful of children.
* In the film's most panoramic sequence, Anna flings wide the palace walls and takes her charges on a Julie Andrews-like romp through peasant villages as they all sing "Getting to Know You," not unlike "Do Re Mi" in the film version of "The Sound of Music."
Producer Arthur Rankin, whose "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a TV perennial, convinced the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization that an animated picture "would be a superb way" to expand the property, R&H spokesman Bert Fink told Playbill On-Line. "If (children) can sing the songs from 'Mulan' and 'Quest for Camelot,' we would also like to see them singing songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein," he said.
The "surreal" medium, he said, leaves room for a looser adaptation of the original story, about an English schoolteacher who comes to 1860s Siam to teach in the King's court and introduce what is good in Western culture.
Fink, of the R&H Organization, which controls, protects and promotes the work of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart and many others, said the new picture not supposed to be an exact copy of what Broadway audiences know.
"The reason we did this 'King and I' is to reach out to a younger audience," said Fink. "We want to pursue every avenue that would lead to exploiting and exploring the music (in a way that would attract a new audience)."
While R&H agreed that the script and story could be adapted to be more action-packed and kid-friendly, the "score was sacrosanct," Fink said. Although verses of songs, entire songs and pieces of songs are cut, no new songs have been added or interpolated.
All underscoring is arranged and orchestrated from Rodgers' music.
"It's a risk," said R&H President Ted Chapin, in the organization's newsletter. "But don't forget that this organization was founded by risk takers. Hopefully this 'King and I' will introduce a generation of younger people to the show, earlier than they might have been under normal circumstances. Hopefully they'll come back to this show on stage, and in the famous Yul Brynner film version."
The $40 million film, a Morgan Creek Production in association with Rankin/Bass Productions and distributed by Warner Bros., will be shown in 27 languages around the world by fall 1999.
The soundtrack of the new animated version of The King and I hit records store March 16, introducing a new generation of listeners to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
The recording reflects the revised script (by Peter Bakalian, Jacqueline Feather & David Seidler), which cuts "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "Something Wonderful" from the story. However, the soundtrack does include previously-released versions of those classics, sung by Barbra Streisand (and played over the final credits).
The film features the voices of Martin Vidnovic (King), Miranda Richardson (Anna's speaking voice), Christiane Noll (Anna's singing voice), Ian Richardson (The Kralahome), Darrell Hammond (Master Little, a new character), Allen D. Hong (Prince Chululongkorn's speaking voice), David Burnham (Prince's singing voice), Armi Arabe (Tuptim's speaking voice) and Tracy Venner Warren (Tuptim's singing voice).
Arrangements and orchestrations are by conductor William Kidd. Richard Rich is the film's director ("The Fox and the Hound," "The Swan Princess.").
Among the disc's vocal tracks: "I Have Dreamed" (Streisand), "We Kiss in a Shadow" (Streisand), "Something Wonderful" (Streisand), "Getting to Know You," "The March of the Siamese Children," "A Puzzlement," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "I Have Dreamed," "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?," "Prayer to Buddha," "Shall We Dance?"
There are also 24 orchestral tracks, by the 90-piece Philharmonia Orchestra of London.
Vidnovic is a Broadway actor who has been seen in numerous projects, including the 1979 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! and A Grand Night for Singing. Noll has appeared in Broadway's Jekyll and Hyde and York Theatre Company's Little by Little. Burnham appeared in the title role of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Toronto. Hong and Arabe appeared in tours of Miss Saigon.
"If this animated version builds an awareness for 'The King and I' in tomorrow's theatregoers," said Chapin, "we'll know we made the right decision."
-- By Kenneth Jones