In 1964, Richard Rodgers accepted a position as president and producing director of Music Theater of Lincoln Center, a summer series of limited-engagement revival productions of famous Broadway musicals performed at the New York State Theater at the recently opened Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The series' first show, appropriately enough, was The King & I, for which Rodgers had composed the music. It starred opera singer Risë Stevens as Anna Leonowens, the widowed British teacher who travels to Siam to instruct the children of the king, played by television actor Darren McGavin. With such casting, Rodgers re-adjusted the balance in the show, which had been written in 1951 for famed British actress Gertrude Lawrence, but turned Yul Brynner into a star. Of course, the vocal talents were also upgraded by the use of Stevens, a much better singer than Lawrence, and Rodgers also brought in another opera singer, Patricia Neway, whom he had previously used to sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" in The Sound of Music, to play Lady Thiang, whose major number was the similarly rangy ballad "Something Wonderful." With the use of McGavin, best known for playing TV detectives, the balance may have been tipped too far, however. The king doesn't have much to do on cast and soundtrack albums beyond the patter song "A Puzzlement," but McGavin demonstrated that he didn't have much of a singing voice, making this album inferior to the original Broadway cast and original soundtrack albums featuring Brynner. The disc is notable, however, as the longest yet recording of the show at 50 minutes, including, for the first time, eight-and-a-half minutes of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas."
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|The King and I|