King Kong (2013 musical)
|Music||Marius de Vries|
|Premiere||15 June 2013Regent Theatre, Melbourne:|
King Kong is a musical with music by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas and additional musical and lyrical contributions by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. It is based on the 1933 film of the same name. The original production was mounted in Australia in 2013. A Broadway production is planned for 2018.
The musical took five years of planning and over five months of rehearsals. Director Daniel Kramer said that it took "three years of auditions and workshops" before performances began. He added, "It’s tempting to focus on the spectacle of King Kong himself. But it is only through the humanity of the life around him – the people of New York City, the comic megalomania of filmmaker Carl Denham, the stubborn opposition of first mate Jack Driscoll, and the grace, beauty and power of our leading lady, Ann Darrow – that he truly takes life."
The musical, according to the 2013 press notes, "has gone back to the source – the novella of the original film by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace – in this world-first adaptation as a large-scale musical."
The musical opened at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on 15 June 2013, following previews from 28 May 2013. The production was directed by Daniel Kramer and choreographed by John O’Connell. Originally booking through 28 July 2013, the musical extended its booking period three times, with its final performance on 16 February 2014, concluding an almost nine-month run. The show was produced by Global Creatures, which partnered with animatronics workshop The Creature Technology Company, who designed the six-metre animatronic silverback title character.
Engineered, designed and built by Global Creature Technology in West Melbourne, Australia, the title role was the largest puppet ever created for the stage. The 2013 press notes stated that Kong was "a highly sophisticated animatronic/marionette hybrid that will be controlled by the integration of hydraulics, automation and the manual manipulation from a team of puppeteer/aerialists. ... A group of 35 on-stage and off-stage puppeteers work to manipulate the large-scale puppet. Several puppeteers are positioned on swinging trapezes and others launch themselves as counterweights off the puppet's shoulders to raise Kong's massive arms as he runs and swipes at planes during the performance. ... [The musical features] a cast of 49 actors, singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers; a crew of 76; and arguably the most technologically advanced puppet in the world – a one-tonne, six-metre giant silverback".
In the middle of The Great Depression in New York City, film director Carl Denham is pressured to find a leading lady for his next film ("Hunting Season"). He searches the city for a woman fitting for the role but with little success ("Sweethearts on Parade/Brother Can You Spare a Dime"). Meanwhile, Ann Darrow is also struggling to cope with life in the city ("What's It Gonna Take"). She is robbed by thugs who taunt her by tossing around her belongings ("I Wanna Be Loved by You"). Denham spots her and realises she is perfect for the role. Ann is almost arrested for trying to steal an apple but Denham is able to prevent it. He offers her a job to star in his picture which she reluctantly accepts. Ann boards his ship and meets the crew including Jack Driscoll with whom she does not get along at first. The ship leaves the port as Denham thinks about how successful his new film will be ("Colossus"). The next morning Ann is nervous about her screen test but later becomes confident as she gets ready ("Special FX"). She and Jack get to know each other a little better ("Perfect') and eventually fall in love ("Foxtrot").
The ship eventually arrives at Skull Island, the crew argue about whether to turn back or explore the island but Denham insists they go ashore. They interrupt the natives' sacrificial ritual and a fight breaks out ("Ritual"). The crew head back to the ship but Ann is abducted and offered as a sacrifice to Kong ("Ascent"). The crew go to rescue her but are too late as Kong has already taken her. Jack, however is determined to get Ann back and ventures into the jungle ("In the Face of Forever"). Meanwhile, Ann wakes up to face Kong in his cave. At first she is frightened but she builds the courage to stand up to him. Kong protects her when she is almost attacked by a giant snake and they form a special bond ("Full Moon Lullaby"). While Kong falls asleep, Jack quietly approaches and Ann reluctantly goes back with him. Kong suddenly wakes and realises Ann has gone and chases after them ("The Chase"). Denham and the crew capture Kong using gas bombs to knock him out and Ann as bait, much to her dismay. Denham decides to present Kong to the public in New York.
Now back in New York, Ann contemplates her experiences on Skull Island ("What's It Gonna Take") while Denham advertises for his show in which he intends to present a now captive Kong to the audience ("The Greatest Show on Earth"). Jack proposes to Ann and she accepts ("Dance with Me"). The couple are about to enter the theatre when Ann asks for a moment alone before joining him as she is caught between starting a new life with Jack and her affection and sympathy for Kong ("A Simple Prayer"). Denham presents Kong in chains to the audience much to their astonishment. Ann and Jack rush onto the stage causing Denham to panic as he is worried they will try to turn the public against him. Ann tries to console Kong but when Denham orders the guards to remove her, despite Jack warning them not to touch her, Kong believes they are trying to hurt her and breaks free as Jack quickly escapes with Ann. Denham sends out the Avalanches to entertain and calm down the nervous crowd ("Get Happy").
Kong rampages through the city in search of Ann and kills few look-alikes, but Ann manages to find him and calm him down. He gently picks her up and takes her to the top of the Empire State Building as the public watch in awe. Denham is arrested despite his protests "It was beauty killed the beast! Not me!" ("Rise"). Atop, Ann and Kong share a moment ("Full Moon Lullaby (Reprise)") but it is cut short when airplanes begin to shoot at Kong. Ann desperately yells for them stop but they don't hear her. Kong is fatally shot in the neck and falls to his death ("Amen, Opus 35"). Below, Jack reunites with a devastated Ann while the crowd gather around to see Kong's dead body.
Roles and original principal cast
- Ann Darrow – Esther Hannaford
- Jack Driscoll – Chris Ryan
- Carl Denham – Adam Lyon
- Cassandra† / High Priestess – Queenie van de Zandt
- Captain Engelhorn / Chief of Police – Richard Piper
† Indicates an original character created for the musical
Kong opened on 15 June 2013 to mixed reviews. The majority of critics lauded the visuals and the cast, but reacted negatively to the music, book and lyrics. Aussie Theatre wrote, "It’s spectacular. Visually and technically, this is theatre that we haven’t seen before", but went on to say, "The story isn’t there. There’s a plot based on assuming the audience know King Kong’s film story, but it’s filled with illogical leaps, clunky dialogue and the melodrama of unearned emotion. It feels like it was written around the spectacle." In terms of the score, it wrote, "The music is forgettable. It’s not boring, but it doesn’t move the story, show character or add much more than a beat for the spectacle that it’s supporting", claiming that "the most successful number is Ann’s lullaby to Kong on Skull Island."
Australian Stage reviewed the show similarly, writing "The storyline does suffer from a lack of character development and an over-use of musical numbers that are sometimes more razzle-dazzle than relevant to the actual story." It also reacted negatively to the original character Cassandra, writing "...adding [her] was another unnecessary idea. With little to do and dressed in a costume that seemed more relevant to Wicked, one was left bewildered by her presence, although Queenie van de Zandt produced another strong performance in the role." In a 3 1/2 star review, The Sunday Morning Herald believed the show to "[impress] on many levels", adding, "if it falls short, it’s because our expectations are so sky high. As such, it is a showcase for a technology’s potential and also its limitations. It is a novel, intermittently powerful but synthetic spectacle that seeks to be more."
Awards and nominations
Original Melbourne production
|2013||Helpmann Awards||Best New Australian Work||Nominated|
|Best Female Actor in a Musical||Esther Hannaford||Nominated|
|Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical||Chris Ryan||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Marius de Vries (original music), Michael Mitnick and Richard Thomas (additional lyrics), featuring Songs and Original Compositions by 3D, Guy Garvey, Sarah McLachlan, Justice and The Avalanches||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Roger Kirk||Won|
|Best Scenic Design||Peter England||Won|
|Best Lighting Design||Peter Mumford||Won|
|Best Sound Design||Peter Hylenski||Won|
|Outstanding Theatrical Achievement *||Won|
- The award for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement was created by the Industry Awards Panel and Helpmann Awards Administration Committee for the "design, creation and operation of King Kong – the creature." The panel and administration felt that the "ground breaking Australian creation, the first of its kind in the world, was worthy of individual recognition.”
Planned Broadway production
The Broadway premiere of King Kong was originally scheduled to take place in 2014. Gerry Ryan of Global Creatures told Australian Radio Station 3AW in January 2014: "I was in New York recently and went to the theatre, and so, they're getting ready – Spider-Man [Turn Off the Dark]'s closed there at the Foxwoods and we'll be opening on December 12 ." Producers soon announced delays. By September 2014, Marsha Norman was engaged to rewrite the book.
In 2015, Jason Robert Brown was added to the team "to write songs for the characters. There's a whole lot of music that already exists for King Kong." Formal presentations for the production began in February 2016.
The musical is scheduled to open on Broadway in the fall of 2018 at the Broadway Theatre. The creative team includes book writer Jack Thorne, director-choreographer Drew McOnie, and Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect, who replace the former creatives.
- Hetrick, Adam. " King Kong Musical May Conquer Broadway Next" playbill.com, 26 June 2013
- " King Kong Musical Extends Melbourne Run to August" playbill.com
- "Homepage". CreatureTechnology.com.
- "Bringing King Kong to life". The Age. Melbourne.
- King Kong - Team
- Oh King Kong! You gorgeous, sexy, magnificent beast aussietheatre.com.au
- King Kong | Global Creatures australianstage.com.au
- King Kong smh.com.au
- Helpmann Awards: Winners
- Bennett, Sally (24 June 2013). "King Kong gatecrashes Helpmann Awards, picking up eight nominations and special 'outstanding achievement' award". Herald Sun. Herald and Weekly Times (News Corp Australia). Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- Hetrick, Adam. "Megamusical 'King Kong' Stalks Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre", Playbill.com, 28 January 2014
- Stevens, Beth. "Monster Musical King Kong Delays Its Stomp to Broadway", Broadway.com, March 6, 2014
- Hetrick, Adam. " King Kong Revamped for U.S. Premiere as Original Creative Team Departs", Playbill.com, September 5, 2014
- Imogen Lloyd Webber. " Monstrous King Kong Musical Taps Bridges of Madison County's Jason Robert Brown & Marsha Norman ", Broadway.com, September 17, 2015
- Hetrick, Adam. "Exclusive: Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman Talk Humanizing 'King Kong' for Broadway", Playbill.com, December 15, 2015
- Hetrick, Adam. "New York-Aimed 'King Kong' Gets High Profile Presentation With Broadway Players, Playbill.com, February 19, 2016
- Lloyd Webber, Imogen. "Marc Kudisch, Robert Creighton & More Tapped for Workshop of Revamped King Kong Musical", Broadway.com, February 19, 2016
- Lefkowitz, Andy. "King Kong Musical Will Stomp onto Broadway in 2018", Broadway.com, May 18, 2017
- Hetrick, Adam. " 'King Kong 'Musical Will Conquer Broadway in 2018; Harry Potter Scribe Joins Creative Team", Playbill, May 17, 2017