Kelly O'Hara and Ken Watanabe as Anna and the King of Siam in "The King and I." (Photo by
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe as Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam in “The King and I.” (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

The Broadway musical “The King and I,” starring Ken Watanabe and veteran American actress Kelli O’Hara, on Sunday received four of this year’s Tony Awards, the most revered prizes in American theater, including best musical revival.

The best musical actress award went to O’Hara, who in her acceptance speech thanked her Japanese co-star as well as others involved in the production, which was nominated in nine categories.

“My king, Ken Watanabe, you’re the king, my king,” said O’Hara, who played Anna Leonowens, English teacher for the children of the king of Siam.

Watanabe missed out on best musical actor, for which he was one of the five nominees. The award went to Michael Cerveris for “Fun Home.” Also nominated were Robert Fairchild for “An American in Paris,” Brian d’Arcy James for “Something Rotten,” and Tony Yazbeck for “On the Town.”

Ruthie Ann Miles, in the role of Princess Thiang, was given the best featured actress award. The Korean American actress and singer has also won awards for her portrayal of Imelda Marcos in “Here Lies Love” off-Broadway. Her other credits include “Avenue Q” off-Broadway and national tours of “Sweeney Todd” and “Annie.”

“The King and I” also won a Tony for Catherine Zuber’s costume design.

As part of the televised award ceremony, Watanabe and O’Hara performed the famous “Shall We Dance” scene from the musical, which is also known for such songs as “I Whistle a Happy Tune” and “Getting to Know You.”

Ruthie Ann Miles won a Tony for her portrayal of Princess Thiang. (Photo by Ken Kolnik)
Ruthie Ann Miles won a Tony for her portrayal of Princess Thiang. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

The nine Tony nominations of “The King and I” was one of the most for this season’s musicals and plays.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, set in the 19th century in what is now Thailand and based on a true story, was first performed in 1951. It revolves around an unexpected bond that develops between the king of Siam and Leonowens. The role of the king is often associated with Yul Brynner, who starred in original Broadway production in 1951 with Gertrude Lawrence and the 1956 film version with Deborah Kerr. He played the role on stage more than 4,000 times, including a revival in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and in a short-lived TV series, “Anna and the King,” in 1972.

Caucasian actors have often been cast as the king, including Farley Granger, Herbert Lom and Darren McGavin, but in recent years more actors of Asian descent have been cast, including Jason Scott Lee, Lou Diamond Phillips and Paul Nakauchi (who appears in the current production in a different role).

Non-musical film adaptations were made in 1946 with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne and in 1999 with Chow Yun Fat and Jodie Foster.

The latest revival version opened officially at the Lincoln Center Theater in New York on April 16 after a nearly one- month-long preview.

It was Watanabe’s Broadway debut. He has played roles in a number of Hollywood movie productions such as “Inception,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Godzilla,” and received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for best supporting actor in “The Last Samurai.” He will next be seen in Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees.”

He is also a veteran actor in Japan, appearing in numerous films and TV shows. He won Japan Academy Awards for “The Unbroken” (Shizumanu Taiyou) and “Memories of Tomorrow” (Ashita no Kioku), and received four other nominations, most recently for “Yurusarezaru Mono,” a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” His stage credits in Japan include “Hamlet,” “The Lion in Winter,” “Dialogue with Horowitz,” and “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.”

O’Hara has been nominated for Tony Awards five other times, for “The Light in the Piazza, “The Pajama Game,” “South Pacific,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Awards are given in more than two dozen categories in musicals, plays and special recognitions. The best musical award went to “Fun Home,” while “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was named the best play.

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