VINTAGE PLAYBILL: The King and I Opening Night, 1951
By Brynn Cox
On this date in 1951, The King and I — the fifth musical collaboration from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — premiered on Broadway.
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.
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