For David Henry Hwang, conflicted feelings about 'The King and I' inspire the ambitious 'Soft Power' / by David Hwang

For as long as he can remember, playwright David Henry Hwang loved “The King and I.”

The 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and subsequent film adaptation tell the story of Anna, a white schoolteacher who is brought to Siam to tutor the king’s children and, in the process, helps to modernize the country known today as Thailand. Generations of Americans have been entranced by the exotic setting and lush melodies of such songs as “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance.”

“When I saw the most recent revival, I became more aware than I have in previous iterations of the show the degree to which some aspects of the premise are sort of questionable — particularly the central premise portraying Anna as the central force who helps the king bring his country into the modern age,” Hwang says.

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