This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

June 18, 2003 - The King and I

Last weekend I attended the Castle Rock Players' production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I," held at the Douglas County High School.

It's an impressive show on many levels. The sumptuous costumes, the elegant sets, the stunning voices, the charming and subtle choreography all speak to the expertise ushered in by Director Carol Petitmaire, Musical Director Ken Street, Technical Director Tom Pelo, Dance Captain Jessica Vogan, and many others.

The acting is wonderful. The core of the show is the relationship between the King of Siam (magnificently portrayed by Randy Braun) and Anna Leonowen (played to perfection by Anna Dammerman).

For those of you who have somehow missed it, the basic story is this: a widowed English woman, along with her young son, is hired to teach English to the 60-odd children of the king. Set in the 1860's (the king several times mentions Abraham Lincoln, whom he clearly admires), the play is based on a true story from Siam's, now Thailand's, history.

The book upon which the play was based was in fact written by Anna Leonowen. Published in 1870, it was called "The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok."

The king -- Mongkut -- was by any standard a remarkable man. As the play rightly points out, Mongkut was responsible for a wave of Western reform. He assumed the throne at age 47, after having spent some 27 years as a Buddhist monk. He set up printing presses, built roads and canals, issued modern currency, and set forth an ambitious and enlightened program for international trade and diplomacy. His country was a model of religious tolerance. His son -- the young prince in the play -- continued these traditions for another 42 years.

Anna Leonowen did unquestionably go to Siam, and did indeed teach the king's children. Beyond that, however, it appears that she had the tendency to stretch the truth. For one thing, she wasn't a governess, just an English teacher. She lied repeatedly about her age, her birthplace, her education, and her ne'er-do-well husband.

In "The English Governess at the Siamese Court," she made many mistakes about Siamese history and the Buddhist religion.

In her second book, "The Romance of the Harem," she claimed that Mongkut threw into underground dungeons the wives who displeased him. Here's the problem: at that time, there were no underground structures of any kind in the area -- too soggy.

Then there's the story of Tuptim -- the young wife who loved another man. Leonowen said she personally witnessed Tuptim being publicly tortured, then burned with her lover, a monk. There were, however, many other foreigners in Siam at the time. Nobody else seems to have heard anything about it.

Worse, she claimed a great deal of credit for Mongkut's and his son's reforms. This didn't go over very well with the Thai people -- a controversy that exploded when "The King and I" first opened. The movie was banned in Thailand.

But that's the difference between history and entertainment.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in seeing a topnotch production, and don't mind some romantic embellishments along with what Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves considered a divinely inspired score, call 303-814-7740. There are three more shows: June 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., and the 22nd at 3 p.m. You'll enjoy it.

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