Time for another selection from the Movie Musicals Challenge!
The King and I is another re-watch for me. More than that, though, it was a little trip down memory lane — when I was a kid, I was in a local theater production of this musical (as one of the king’s many children). It was an enriching experience and I’ll forever be able to recite certain scenes word-for-word… but I also experienced my first instance of paralyzing stage fright during one show, so that’s kind of a cringe-inducing memory in particular.
The music, of course, is grand and sweeping and moving. And the scenery and costumes are so gorgeous — I kept pausing the movie just to sort of look around and take in all the rich visuals. BUT it’s also kind of a mid-century American interpretation of a colonial-era Englishwoman’s(*) memories of a very foreign land, so… great as the audio and visual components may be, I wouldn’t exactly rely on them to be historically accurate, you know?
Despite my personal attachment to this musical, I can’t ignore its undercurrent of stereotypical orientalism. However, I also can’t pretend to know enough about this particular cultural issue or the story’s historical context to be able to lead an in-depth discussion on it. So I would simply remind any potential viewers that this is a nearly 70-year-old American theater version of a slightly older novel based on a 19th century memoir written by a white-passing mixed race expatriate.
One of my favorite scenes is the play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin that Tuptim presents towards the end of the film, which is based on a traditional type of Thai drama-dance called khon. This play-within-a-play is beautifully done and I can’t think of anything else quite like it in musical theater.
Have you watched this movie or seen the musical performed live? What did you think of it?