Opera Australia Blog

Getting to know the music of The King and I

Shall we dance? On a bright cloud of music shall we fly? 

The songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit musical The King and I were so delightful that they quickly gained a life of their own outside the show. You’ll be surprised how many you know, even if you’ve never seen the film or stage version of The King and I.

Getting to know youShall we Dance  and I Whistle a Happy Tune have all made their way into popular culture.

East and West

Listen out for the ways in which Rodgers contrasts Anna’s Western background with the (to her) foreign ‘otherness’ of the Siamese court. The composer gives Anna Western dance rhythms and familiar harmonies in her songs, which all have catchy, conventional tunes. They are familiar to Western ears.

However, you might notice some dissonant, unfamiliar intervals during songs written for the Siamese characters, particularly in Lady Thiang’s Something WonderfulThe March of the Siamese Children and the setting of the ballet ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’.

In this way, Rodgers created a faintly oriental feel, without actually using traditional Siamese song structures, which might have alienated Western audiences in 1950s America.

Culture clash

By the time The King and I premiered, Rodgers and Hammerstein were renowned for their love duets. But unable to give one to Anna and the King in The King and I (cultural conventions would never have permitted a romance between Anna and the Siamese King), they had to turn to a second pair of lovers: Lun Tha and Tuptim. In ‘I have dreamed’ and ‘We kiss in the shadow’, the audience get the romantic show tunes they are expecting.


Rodgers and Hammersteingdid take a shortcut when writing the score: the song ‘Getting to Know You’ is set to the tune of ‘Suddenly Lucky’ – a song written for, and then cut from, South Pacific.


Lisa McCune as Anna Leonowens with Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the King of Siam in The King and I. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti.

Lisa McCune as Anna Leonowens with Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the King of Siam in The King and I. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti.

Hear the songs of The King and I in all their glory on the Sydney Opera House stage this spring. Tickets are available on the Opera Australia website.


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