on October 16, 1999
I have taken much flack from my theatrically elitist friends when I defend (vehemently) the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein. I find their shows (especially the first five) and the works of Stephen Sondheim to be among the best things ever written for the theatre. Not just musical theatre, but THEATRE. Sadly, this recording would give R & H detractors support for their views. While it is valuable as the only recording to include ALL the music written for the "King and I", the cast feels dramatically hazy and unfocussed. Valerie Masterson sings beautifully, as one would expect from her, but she hasn't had the time to really get to the heart of Anna, though she does a fair job. Christopher Lee's dark black voice fits the King, but he is too laid back for my taste. Sally Burgess is a fine Lady Thiang, and the most successful casting of the set. Tinuke Olafimihan, usually such an excellent performer, is dull and a little hooty here. The two boys are poor. Valuable, then, for its completeness, but maddening for its slackness. For more dramatically convincing recordings, check out the 1977 RCA version with Yul Brynner and Constance Towers, or the fine 1996 Broadway revival with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Philips.
on December 15, 2003
This recording has several things going for it: the conducting of John Owen Edwards, the playing of the National Symphony, the performances of Valerie Masterson as Anna and Sally Burgess as Lady Thiang, and the fact that it contains all of the music in the score (including all the underscoring; the complete "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet; the complete overture, which is truncated either a little or a lot on almost every other recording of it; the entr'acte; and the exit music).
Owen Edwards has made some idiosyncratic choices on some of the other JAY recordings he has conducted. Among other things, he has often leaned toward slowish tempi. (Actually, I often like his idiosyncratic choices and slowish tempi.) On this recording, he keeps things moving, delivering a pretty standard and well-executed reading. If anything, "A Puzzlement" is too fast (perhaps to save Christopher Lee as the King from having to sustain notes for too long). The only place where he gets a little strange is in "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" In this number, he and Masterson keep slowing down and speeding up in a way that doesn't sound natural but just draws attention to itself. Otherwise, the conducting is excellent, with Owen Edwards getting lovely phrasing and playing from the orchestra, even if there are some places where you might prefer Milton Rosenstock's choices on the recording of the 1977 Broadway revival.
Masterson is one of the best Annas on disc, even if she doesn't sing the music as well as you might expect from an opera singer. I approached this recording feeling a bit apprehensive about an opera singer as Anna, but (except for her emphasizing some strange words in "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?") I found her warm, touching, and thoroughly convincing,
Sally Burgess is a wonderful Lady Thiang, one of the best on disc, which is saying a lot since this role is well-cast on almost every recording of the score.
Things get a bit less successful with Christopher Lee as the King, Tinuke Olafimihan as Tuptim, and Jason Howard as Lun Tha.
In Lee's favor is that he never seems to be imitating Yul Brynner and that he sounds mature. The problem is that he sounds too mature. Most of the time it sounds like he doesn't have much singing voice left (I don't know how much he ever had), and in the dialogue he sounds like he doesn't even have much speaking voice left. He also makes the strange choice to pronounce the word "a" as if it were the letter A. My guess is that there was some historical reason for this, but it draws attention every time he does it (and he's very consistent!). His accent also sounds more Indian than Thai, at least to my ears. He does sound dramatically involved some of the time, but overall I think he was not the best choice for this role.
Olafimihan, who was a good a Maria on the JAY "West Side Story" and an excellent Eliza on the JAY "My Fair Lady," is not as good here. She is not in her best voice, and perhaps that is why she seems to focus so much on just getting the notes out and not much on putting feeling into them. She comes alive, though, when narrating "The Small House of Uncle Thomas."
Jason Howard sings well as Lun Tha, but is a bit stolid.
As is sometimes the case on these JAY recordings, some details are a little off. There are a few (just a few) wrong lyrics, and the timing of the dialogue that leads into the climax of "Shall We Dance?" is off. (A listen to the 1977 recording demonstrates how to do it effectively.) The Louis and the Prince Chululongkorn are not very strong in the reprise of "A Puzzlement." A comparison of the little "Home, Sweet Home" chorus for the children and the priests heard here with the one on the 1977 recording is a good example of where this performance is sometimes not crisp enough. Perhaps there just wasn't enough rehearsal time for some things.
It's wonderful to have all the underscoring, which is beautifully played and conducted, but I do wish that the recording included more of the dialogue that the underscoring is meant to accompany. I gather that this may have been because it wasn't possible to get the rights to record much of the dialogue, but I still miss it.
And why is there no mention of Trude Rittman anywhere in the booklet or on the cover? Rittman, working from Rodgers's themes, wrote the music for the "Uncle Thomas" ballet and much, perhaps all, of the underscoring. She should get some credit somewhere here.
I fear that I've overemphasized the negatives in what I wrote. I really am grateful for this recording, I get a lot of pleasure from it, and it's never less than adequate. Much of the time it's a good deal more than adequate. If you really love this score, as I do, this recording is very much worth having.
on August 3, 1999
In 1994, Jay Records released a wonderful recording of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical 'The King and I.' It is probably the best recording ever to be made of this musical. It is first and only complete recording of the score. The 'Opening Act One' is filled with the sounds of dolphins, seagulls, and the ocean tide. It is the only recording that contains the 'Entr'acte' and the 'Procession.'It is also the only recording that contains 'The Small House of Uncle Thomas.' I highly recommend it to anyone looking for the perfect 'The King and I' Compact Disc.
on June 13, 2015
I am listening to this recording as we speak and I have to admit that it is wonderful. I have so many favorite recordings of this score, it is true, (Gertie, Constance, Julie, Rise, Marni - and now Kelli) but it is wonderful to have all the incidental music because, in this music, we find Bennett and Ritman's orchestral imaginations given full reign. I just noticed some carping in the reviews - some suggesting that Masterson has not "had time to get into her role". I severely disagree. master is wonderful - as is Lee and the supporting cast. I don't always like the Jay interpretations of classic shows - often because of strange casting - but Jay's THE KING AND I is an absolutely must-have for a Rodgers and Hammerstein/King and I fan.