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King Kong

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 8, 2018

King Kong Written by Jack Thorne. Score composed and produced by Marius de Vries. Songs by Eddie Perfect. Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie. Scenic and projection design by Peter England. Creature designer Sonny Tilders. Costume design by Roger Kirk. Lighting design by Peter Mumford. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Kong/Aerial movement director Gavin Robins. Hair design by Tom Watson. Video and projection imaging content by Artists in Motion. Orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke. Music direction and additional arrangements by Michael Gacetta. Vocal arrangements by Eddie Perfect and Michael Gacetta. Associate musical arranger Eldad Guetta. Music supervisor David Caddick. Production stage manager Kathleen E. Purvis. Associate Kong/aerial movement director Leigh-Anne Vizer. Associate director Johanna McKeon. Associate choreographer Ellenore Scott. Music coordinator David Lai. Production manager Juniper Street Productions. Technical director Fred Gallo. Technical supervisor Richard Martin. Company manager Cathy Kwon. Cast: Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtefeld, Ashley Andrews, Mike Baerga, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Chloë Campbell, Leroy Church, Peter Chursin, Jo,van Dansberry, Kayla Davion, Rory Donovan, Casey Garvin, Christopher Hampton Grant, Jon Hoche, Gabriel Hyman, Harley Jay, James T. Lane, Marty Lawson, Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, Danny Miller, Brittany Marcell Monachino, Jennifer Noble, Kristen Faith Oei, Eliza Ohman, Roberto Olvera, Jaquez André Sims, Khadija Tariyan, Jena VanElslander, Scott Weber, Jacob Williams, Lauren Yalango-Grant, Warren Yang, and David Yijae.
Theatre:Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street
Tickets: Telecharge

Christiani Pitts and King Kong
Photo by Joan Marcus

OK. There's really only one thing anyone wants to know about King Kong, the new musical opening tonight at the Broadway Theatre. So let's get right to it. The answer is, yes. The great ape is magnificent. Standing twenty feet tall and weighing in at 2000 pounds, this is a real Broadway baby, with the most expressive eyes you can imagine. Not to mention those teeth! Julie Taymor, eat your heart out!

All praise, then, to the technical team, with a special hats off to Sonny Tilders, creative director of the Australia-based Creature Technology Company, who is identified as the "creature designer." Indeed, all of the design elements, from the inventive use of projections (the seasick-prone might want to look away during the ocean crossing to Skull Island), the curvature of the set, the sound, the lighting, even the scrims, contribute to the overall effect.

If this is what you are looking for, then by all means pick up a ticket and head on out. I would advise, however, that you spring for a downstairs seat, preferably in the first few rows. That's where you'll realize the fullest effect, especially at one point when Kong moves downstage, rises upright, and reaches out into the audience. The further away you sit, the less of a visceral thrill you'll experience. There is nothing like a close-up view of the gigantic animatronic/robotic puppet that dominates every scene in which it appears.

If gasps accompany the ape's arrival, following a lead-in from Marius de Vries' foreboding deep, deep bass-y musical score, be on notice that it is coughs that spread through the theater during the Kong-less stretches, when the only ones onstage are human performers acting out Jack Thorne's script, singing Eddie Perfect's songs, and dancing to the energetic and athletic choreography devised by Drew McOnie, who also directs the show.

Playwright Jack Thorne is certainly no stranger to devising scripts to accompany stage magic, having done the same for the phenomenon that is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Here, he adds little to what the screenwriters of the original 1933 movie came up with. Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts), an aspiring but down-on-her-luck actress, meets up with an aspiring filmmaker, Carl Denham (Eric William Morris). Before you know it, he whisks her off on a voyage to make a movie on Skull Island, where they meet up with Kong. The mighty creature captures Ann, they bond, and Denham abandons the film idea and decides to capture the ape, take it back to New York, and put it on display. Enough said. We already know how this will all play out.

Christiani Pitts and King Kong
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Ms. Pitts gives us an Ann who is brave and determined, as if she were playing one of Disney's recent self-possessed heroines. She takes on King Kong and anyone who gets in her way with a firm hand; instead of screaming in fright like Fay Wray, she lets out a mighty roar. She also courageously spends more time suspended in the air than anyone ever did in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. As for Morris' Carl Denham, he turns more and more into a mean-spirited greedy pig during the course of the show, until Ann sets about freeing Kong from captivity and the ape carries her up the Empire State Building for their final scene together.

One big question is, why turn this perfectly good story into a musical, especially when the songs and the dancing do precious little to elucidate the goings-on? Eddie Perfect's tunes are not so much generic as they are familiar-sounding. During lulls, I found myself playing a personal game of "what song does this one remind me of?" Well, at least the show's true star blessedly neither sings nor dances.

Arguably, King Kong is less of a Broadway show than an arena event that happens to be occupying a Broadway theater. It's hard to say whether it will draw audiences in significant numbers, or if it will disappear into the mist of the Skull Island of memory. If it does latch on, however, don't be surprised if you hear that someone is developing a new show along these same lines. "Jurassic Park: The Musical" anyone?


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