Although Yul Brynner came to be closely identified with The King and I, having originated the part of the king on Broadway in 1951, played it on screen in 1956, and toured in the show in the 1970s and '80s, the musical was actually written not as a star vehicle for him (in fact the male lead has relatively little singing), but for Gertrude Lawrence, who originated the role of Anna Leonowens, the "I" of the title. Nevertheless, after Brynner's death in 1985, it seemed hard to imagine that The King and I could be performed again without him. Producer Jack Frost helped overcome that impression with a fresh production in Australia directed by Christopher Renshaw in 1991-92, and it was that production, albeit with a new American cast, that moved to Broadway on April 11, 1996, winning four Tony Awards, including those for best revival and best actress in a musical (Donna Murphy), and ultimately running 807 performances. Murphy, a Broadway veteran, was typically effective, adopting a proper British accent and making her way movingly through "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Getting to Know You" as masterfully as any Anna ever had. But all eyes were on Broadway neophyte Lou Diamond Phillips, still best known for playing Ritchie Valens in the movie La Bamba. Phillips scaled down the king to more human proportions in keeping with the more realistic, more Oriental feel of the production. But he brought an energy and power to his portrayal that were his own, and he seemed utterly unaffected by the ghost of Brynner. The result was an excellent staging brought to disc here with plenty of dialogue and underscoring. This is one among many recordings of the score, but it preserves an excellent production of a classic show.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Joohee Choi
feat: Lou Diamond Phillips