Gertrude Lawrence portrayed Anna Leonowens, and Yul Brynner starred as the King of Siam in what would become a career-defining role. Five-year-old Baayork Lee made her Broadway debut as a young princess.
The musical opened March 29, 1951, at the St. James Theatre. New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson deemed it "a skillfully written musical drama with a well-designed libretto, a rich score, a memorable performance, and a magnificent production."
The King and I was a critical and commerical hit, and earned Tonys for Best Musical, Jo Mielziner's scenic design and Brynner's performance in a featured role. Lawrence won the Best Actress Tony for what would prove to be her final performance; she died several months later at the age of 54.