VINTAGE PLAYBILL: The King and I Opening Night, 1951

By Brynn Cox
March 29, 2013

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.

The production went on to play 1,246 performances at the St. James and enjoyed Broadway revivals in 1977, 1985 and 1996.

Read the opening night Playbill in the Vault.