‘King Kong’ Musical Looks to Succeed Where ‘Spider-Man’ Failed: On Broadway

With the producer of the stage version of “King Kong” talking up an impending Broadway opening during an interview on Australian radio, the New York run of the big-budget, Aussie musical-spectacle is all but confirmed. Now the production can move on to what should perhaps be its first order of business: Getting out from under the shadow of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

There are plenty of key differences between “Kong” and “Spider-Man,” the comicbook tuner that drew headlines for its production travails and its big-money financial losses. But because both titles are ambitious musicals that aim to marry character-driven story and spectacle — and because “Kong” looks poised to play in exactly the same 42nd Street venue as “Spider-Man” — the producers of “King Kong” may need to work overtime to ensure New York doesn’t see the show as just another special effects extravaganza that’s too big to succeed.

Global Creatures, the production company behind “Kong” as well as arena tours “Walking with Dinosaurs” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” has made no secret of its international ambitions for “Kong.” Following a Down Under premiere last year in Melbourne (where the show plays through Feb. 16), a move into New York had been expected sometime in the 2014-15 season. The Foxwoods had long been its likely home, since Broadway’s largest theater is one of only two on the Main Stem that can accommodate the large-scale requirements of the show. (The other potential venue is the Broadway Theater, currently home to “Cinderella.”)

Details about “Kong” came into focus when Global Creatures chairman Gerry Ryan, in an interview on Melbourne radio station 3AW late last week, specified a December opening at the Foxwoods. Officially, though, neither the dates nor the venue have been officially confirmed. “Plans for the Broadway production of ‘King Kong’ are not confirmed at this time,” producers said in a statement.  “We hope to have details about the future of the show shortly.”

Still, a potential move into the theater where “Spider-Man” played for three years as one of the Rialto’s top grossers — but still managed to lose an estimated $60 million — makes it vital the production establish itself as an entirely different entity in the eyes of the New York theater industry and of audiences.

Anyone tallying similarities between the two projects doesn’t have to look far: Both are musicals based on an iconic pop culture figure, rendered onstage in a large-scale, technically ambitious production. With U2 writing the songs for “Spider-Man” and acts including Sarah McLachlan augmenting the score for “Kong,” both have ties to pop music names. And both titles enlisted creatives with downtown-theater cred, with Julie Taymor co-creating “Spidey” and veteran playwright Craig Lucas penning the book for “Kong.”

In differentiating the two titles, it’ll help that if and when “King Kong” opens in December, nearly a year will have passed since the closing of “Spider-Man,” which just shuttered Jan. 4 and remains, at the moment, fresh on legiters’ minds. In a year, the shadow of the webslinger’s Broadway outing will likely have faded for consumers.

There are also major differences in the two shows’ production models. The sky-high $75 million cost of “Spider-Man” was incurred in large part by a long, haphazard development process for a show that opened cold on Broadway, with all those expenses folded into the New York production’s budget. By contrast, “King Kong” has already been developed in the Melbourne production (said to have come in at around $30 million), so the capitalization of the American staging, while still poised to be high by Broadway standards, won’t be weighed down with those expenses. And since the heavy-lifting required to mount “Kong” has already been accomplished once, there’s zero likelihood that previews will stretch over months as they did at “Spider-Man.”

So even given the similarities, there are significant differences between “Kong” and “Spider-Man” as well. The challenge for “King Kong” is to make sure that by the time the production opens on Broadway, everyone in New York knows it.

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