Elaine Paige: “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?”
The King and I London Revival Cast Album (2000)
I love The King and I, and I love the cast album of the Broadway revival that starred Donna Murphy. I knew that Elaine Paige starred in the British edition of that production, so when I saw the disc there was no question I would grab it.
This is not my favorite song on the album, but I think it’s the one that gives the best sense of Paige’s take on the role of Anna, which is different from how most other actresses play her. Paige’s Anna is as disdainful of the king as he is of her. Her smugness in this song is at such a high level, she doesn’t even get angry until about 70% through it — which helps this lengthy number have more of a shape than it usually does. It doesn’t help make her likable on the album — I assume she was more likable on stage — but it sure is interesting.
The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Jason Lee as the king can not sing. Not at all. I don’t mean he talk sings in the charming way the Yul Brynner did. He can’t even do that in anything resembling “on key.” He is probably the album’s biggest liability. The rest of the cast are all fine, but none blew me away.
The album, produced by Mike Moran, takes a slightly different approach to the material than its Broadway cousin — this one includes the ballet “Small House of Uncle Thomas” (which is nice to have, in theory, but you’ll skip past it more often than not) but not some of the instrumental bits like “The Procession.” (Neither recording included “Western People Funny,” which I believe was eliminated from this production entirely.) The end of the album follows the flow Bruce Kimmel established on the Broadway recording, capturing the final scene and providing an ending that most previous King and I albums lacked.
I suspect British listeners might prefer this recording over the 1996 Broadway cast album, if only to hear an actually British singer in the role of the Welsh schoolmarm. I don’t think this will replace the Donna Murphy recording as my go-to King and I, but it’s certainly some of Paige’s finest work.