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AWARD-WINNING 'KING AND I' WILL BEGIN A BRIEF REIGN THIS WEEK IN TORONTO

Is there life after Yul Brynner for "The King and I," Rodgers & Hammerstein's exotic musical?

You better believe there is!

And you very soon will have the opportunity to see for yourself, because Livent, Toronto's mega-producer, has announced it will bring the 1996 Tony Award-winning Broadway production of "The King and I" to the Hummingbird Center for the Performing Arts -- formerly the O'Keefe Center -- for a limited summer run.

Preview performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday and 2 p.m. Thursday, followed by the official opening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Performances will continue at 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday through Aug. 3.

Mounting a new production of "The King and I" is a daunting challenge. Brynner chalked up a record 4,625 performances from the musical's 1951 opening to his final performance, seven productions later, on June 30, 1985.

Brynner died slightly more than three months later from lung cancer, leaving behind a Broadway legend of mythical proportions.

But 11 years after Brynner's death, director Christopher Renshaw and the production team Dodger Endemol Theatricals concluded five years of groundwork by importing and revising a sumptuous Australian production of "The King and I." It opened April 11, 1996, in New York City's Neil Simon Theatre.

They have dealt with Brynner's ghost by publicizing the name of the show first, then returning the focus to Anna, rather than the King of Siam.

For this touring run of the same lavish production, they have cast Hayley Mills as Anna and Victor (Vee) Talmadge as the King, with Mills presented as a sort of first-among-equals in the various billings and advertisements.

The stage trappings include "lavish murals, mirrored tiles, jewels, silk and other fabrics imported from Thailand, masks and red elephants," which all credit the Australian design team with having re-created an authentic Thai experience.

With choreography by Jerome Robbins and Lar Lubovich, and musical direction by Michael Rafter, the 1996 version of "The King and I" took Broadway by storm, receiving four Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics' Circle Awards.

The show also produced many popular songs, such as "Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," "Shall We Dance?" or "Something Wonderful."

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