“Something Wonderful”

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, The King and I, “Something Wonderful”

Heath Saunders

Margaret Landon’s popular historical novel, Anna and the King of Siam, appeared in 1944. The book was inspired by the life of Anna Leonowens, the Indian-born British widow who taught the 82 (!) children of Siam’s King Mongkut  — not to mention his 39 wives and concubines — in Bangkok from 1862 to 1867. The book captivated one of Broadway’s most luminous stars, Gertrude Lawrence, who longed to play Anna in a play or musical based on the book. After purchasing the rights, Lawrence’s agent persuaded Dorothy Hammerstein to bring the book to her lyricist husband Oscar’s attention. Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne had already starred in a film version of the book; once Hammerstein and his collaborator, composer Richard Rodgers, saw the film, they signed on to the project. After Mary Martin recommended a charismatic young actor named Yul Brynner to play opposite Lawrence, Rodgers and Hammerstein had their two stars. The King and I was the greatest hit of the 1951/52 season, introducing audiences to many of the most beloved songs ever written for Broadway.

Anna has the lion’s share of the score, but another character can steal the show, musically speaking, with the first of her two solos. That character is the king’s head wife, the elegant and dignified Lady Thiang. After Anna asserts her status as an independent woman but is referred to by the irate king as his servant, she’s ready to quit her job. Lady Thiang comes to Anna’s apartment, letting her know that the king is actually very distressed and needs Anna’s advice and help. When Anna admits her reluctance to go to him, Lady Thiang sings “Something Wonderful,” possibly musical theater’s most touching expression of a woman’s intention to love, support, and defend the man she loves.

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Photos: Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kyle Flubacker