Nureyev dancing in The King and I
THE KING AND I, the musical comedy by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with choreography by Jerome Robbins, starred Yul Brynner on Broadway in 1951, where it was put on more than 1,200 times and won the Tony Awards. In 1956, Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr immortalized the story of the King of Siam and the British widow come to educate his children on the big screen. Walter Lang's film received five Academy Awards. The part of the King was to follow Yul Brynner right through his life until just a few weeks before his death; he played the role 4,625 times.
Nureyev was offered the role in 1979, but he turned it down, not wanting the musical comedy to encroach on his career as a ballet dancer. In 1989, in a state of uncertainty as to the outcome of negotiations for the renewal of his contract at the Paris Opera, Nureyev accepted the part for the sum of one million dollars in the context of a 24 week tour of "The King and I" throughout Canada and the United states, with Liz Robertson as his partner. First night was in Toronto on the 29th August 1989.
Of the role of the King, Nureyev said: "He is a disagreeable character who has unlimited power. I love absolute power. The King is inquisitive by nature, he wants to learn, and he's got a lot of good points."