The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
That's not to say that King Kong the musical, doesn't have plenty of singing and dancing courtesy of its cast and creative team. In fact the monster star doesn't appear until the eighth scene of the first act.
So this King Kong begins as a "regular" musical with a several high octane production numbers to introduce us to the characters and setting of Jack Thorne's somewhat altered though not markedly improved adaptation of the original scenario.
That scenario follows Ann Darrow, a young actress whose career is at a dead end, and and a ruthlessly ambitious filmmaker, Carl Denham (a nicely insufferable Eric William Morris) who persuades her to join him on an adventurous voyage from 1930s depression era New York to an island said to be inhabited by the world's greatest wonder (you guessed it the gorilla-like Kong). Ann's interaction with that wondrous creature transforms Denham's ambition into a grandiose plan to change the world. And so after Kon captures Ann, Denham and company capture Kon and bring him to New York in chains and Ann bullied into appearing with him in a live stage spectacle. But, this being a beauty and the beast star-crossed romance, they escape up to that famous rooftop for the bittersweet finale of their story. The this time around Trump-like Denham gets his comeuppance. While some characters are dropped, Denham's longtime lackey, Lumpy (Eric Lochtefeld) is a Thorne add-on. Also figuring importantly in the outcome of Denham's expedition is Captain Englehorn (Rory Donovan, the show's top vocal talent) who's in charge of the ship to and from Skull Island.
Marius De Vries' ponderous score is a mish-mash of styles but it does have its moments, Eddie Perfect's songs are tuneful but hardly memorable; neither do they do much to further or enrich the story. Director/choreographer Drew McOnie has staged it all with plenty of smoke and other atmospheric, eye-popping theatrical bells and whistles — some of which, like the natural scene shift from the streets of Depression era Manhattan to the ship that will take us to Skull Island and Kong. The athletic choreography at times made me feel I was watching ten trios of the break dancers who often enliven my subway rides to and from the theater.
But to cut to the chase. . .once Kong roars his way on to the stage it's his show. Everything else is in the service of this Monster's performance. The effort to extend Kong's long symbolic parallels to racism, slavery and colonialism to our current society's endorsement of racism and greed feels forced and clunky, whereas the presentation of the giant marionette puppet is amazingly original and genuinely entertaining.
The theater has seen some truly groundbreaking puppetry, notably War Horse. But the sheer size of creature designer Sonny Tilders' puppet is mind boggling. And Kong Movement director Gavin Robins and his ensemble of fourteen visible yet invisible operators make this creature enormously human and endlessly fascinating to watch. Four off-stage "voodoo" artists manipulate Kong's facial expressions. There are two especially breath taking moments: a fight to the death between the gorilla and an equally gigantic serpent. . . the scene in which Kong rises to his full two-story height and his front paws reach beyond the stage lip as if to move into the audience.
Take away that puppet and you have a show on which a lot of money has been spent. . . .successfully so for Kong, but less impressively so for everything else.
For details about King Kong's history check out the Background Facts at the end of the Production Note.
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Book by Jack Thorne
Score composed and produced by Marius de Vries
songs by Eddie Perfect
Director and Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Cast (principal cast:Christiani Pitts(Ann Darrow), Eric William Morris (Carl Denham(, aErik Lochtefel (Lumpy), Rory Donovan (Captain Englehorn), Harley Jay(Barman), Casey Carvin (Fake Carl), Jon Hoche (Voice of Kong); plus Ensemble, King's Company Ensemble, Voodoo Operators/Ensemble King's Company Ensemble
Scenic & Projection Design: Peter England
Costume Design: Roger Kirk
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Hair Design: Tom Watson
Creature Design: Sonny Tilders
Video & Projection Imaging Content: Artists in Motion
Kong/Aerial Movement Drector: Gavin Robins
Orchestrations: Christopher Jahnke
Stage Manager: Kathleen E. Purvis
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission
Broadway Theater 1681 Broadway.
From 10/05/18; opening 11/08/18;closing 4/14/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at November 7th press matinee
Background facts about King Kong
The King Kong character was conceived and created by American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper whose first vision for that giant ape was atop the world’s tallest building swatting off airplanes.
The giant gorilla first appeared in the 1933 hit movie King Kong by RKO Pictures. Wide acclaim quickly seeded a sequels.
The 1960s brought The Son of Kong. King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong Escapes.
In 1976, Dino De Laurentiis produced a modern remake of the original film, the only King Kong movie featuring the now gone World Trade Center towers rather than the Empire State Building. This was again followed by a sequel, King Kong Lives.
King Kong was one of Adolf Hitler's favourite movies.
The character and his fate have long been recognized as a metaphor for racism, with the 1933 release coinciding with a time when racial and social tensions prevailed. The capturing and chaining of Kong is also symbolically linked to the US slave trade
Film scholars also pointed to parallels with colonialism, with Kong seen as a warrior who is forcefully shackled and transported to a different world for the amusement and profit of white people.
In all the movies and now in this musical, Kong is more sympathetic than the casts' humans
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