The Rodgers and Hammerstein Effect

Posted on 8 January 2024

Whether you’re a theatre connoisseur or a casual attendee, there’s a name that every musical lover knows by heart, even if they don’t know its history. Synonymous with unprecedented triumph and success, that name is none other than Rodgers and Hammerstein. A partnership unlike anything else that had come before it and an undeniable legacy left behind, Rodgers and Hammerstein are like the Madonna (or The Beatles, but we know who we prefer) of musical theatre; they have reshaped the landscape of the musical completely while taking the art form to new and soaring artistic heights. 

The King and I, among their many masterpieces, deals delicately with cultural explorations and has left a lasting impact on the world all these years later. Here’s why.

A Rodgers and Hammerstein History 

We’ll keep it short before we talk about The King and I (as we never did like history lectures). But to set the scene, the stunning partnership between Rodgers and Hammerstein began in 1943 with Oklahoma!, a work that would later be re-adapted countless times. 

The groundbreaking musical set a new standard for integrating songs with heart-wrenching stories; it paved the way for future successes such as Carousel,South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, and the television broadcast of Cinderella (1957). Their collaboration was a meeting of minds and a complement to each other's talents. Rodgers' melodic genius intertwined with Hammerstein's striking lyrics, and together, they created narratives beneath melodies that have stood the test of time (and are still widely performed to this day). Which leads us on to the star of the show...

The King and I

On March 29, 1951, The King and I premiered at Broadway's St. James Theatre. Inspired by Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam, which itself was adapted from Anna Leonowens' memoirs, the musical unfolds in 1860s Siam (now known to be Thailand). It is a story told between two people coming together, represented through the characters of King Mongkut and Anna Leonowens.

When Two Worlds Meet

The story is a dance of cultures: Anna, a British widow and teacher, arrives in Siam to educate the King's many children. King Mongkut, portrayed with sternness and curiosity, is a ruler at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. Their relationship, punctuated by clashes and mutual respect, forms the emotional spine of the musical and paves the way for positive change, which, frankly, was extremely ahead of its time.

It’s All About The Music 

Well, not entirely, but it helped! ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’ are classics (and absolute bangers). The music of The King and I is playful and poignant, and it is a window into the souls of two characters who are clashing while also being closer than ever before. Adorned with Hammerstein’s insightful lyrics, the music echoes the narrative's themes of understanding and respect across cultural divides.

It’s what helped The King and I go from being a mere musical to a cultural touchstone. Evident in its Broadway run, which lasted a whopping three years and led to the subsequent 1956 film adaptation. While the musical reflects the perspectives of its era, it also sparked ongoing discussions about cultural representation and sensitivity.

The King and I London Tickets

It’s back, it’s back! It’s not a question of Shall We Dance? We will be dancing when The King and I returns to the West End on January 20th. Mark your calendar! 

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By Kevin Thomas

From as early as I can recall, writing has always been my passion. Being able to combine this with my love for theatre has been a rewarding and exhilarating experience. I truly believe that there is magic in seeing a story brought to life on stage, and this is what I would like to promote to audiences.