×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘King Kong’

It’s all about the 2,000-pound gorilla in the room, and this visually dazzling production delivers big time despite a mishmash of styles and generic tunes.

With:
Christine Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtefeld,, Ashley Andrews, Mike Baerga, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Chloe Campbell, Leroy Church, Peter Chursin, Jovan 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, Britany Marcell Monachino, Jennifer Noble, Kristen Faith Oei, Eliza Ohman, Roberto Olvera, Jaquez Andre Sims, Khadija Tariyan, Jena Van Elslander, Scott Weber, Jacob Williams, Lauren Yalango-Grant, Warren Yang, David Yijae.

2 hours 15 minutes

“He’s not a film, he’s theater!” says the movie director in the musical “King Kong,” when he realizes that the mighty creature he is about to capture is best presented on a proscenium stage.

After an earlier production in Australia and with the addition of a largely new creative team, the producers (led by Global Creatures) of this $35-million Broadway epic, based on the classic 1933 film, have re-envisioned the story in striking theatrical terms, using dazzling projections, super-sized puppetry and lush underscoring to create one thrill ride of a show. Topping the list of visual wows is the magnificent, moving and oh-so-expressive title character who, alas, is not eligible for a Tony.

There’s no mention of “musical” in the this musical’s marketing, which is probably a good idea. The show, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, disappoints in its mishmash of musical styles — “42nd Street,” “The Last Ship,” even Mel Brooks come to mind as the production runs its course. Individual songs by Eddie Perfect (“Beetlejuice“) are blandly generic and forgettable, though Marius de Vries’ score and Christopher Jahnke’s orchestrations give the show a kind of cinematic swept, as well as transitional cover and emotional underpinnings.

Jack Thorne, an expert at scripting shows of immense size, sweep and wonder — he penned “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” —  here is a narrative minimalist, concentrating the sizable story to just a trio of characters — and one who doesn’t speak at all. Kong doesn’t sing or dance, but you could say he has one of the best 11 o’clock numbers around when he approaches the apron of the stage to break through the fourth wall.

There’s also more than a few cliches, and a set-up that’s a stretch. “We’re following a map acquired from a Norwegian to an island I don’t know much about,” says filmmaker Carl Denham (Eric William Morris). Uh-huh.

But Thorne also makes some smart choices. Gone is the indigenous tribe of the film, the hokey human romance and the helpless damsel-in-distress template, certainty out-of-date for these female empowerment times. In its modern rethink, the production presents a Wonder Woman of a heroine impressively played by Christiani Pitts.

Unlike the film, this Ann Darrow is more than the sum of Fay Wray’s screams. This new indefatigable dame can — and does, no thanks to the guys — save herself and others, time and again. In one of several sly twists on the movie, this Ann even has trouble showing terror, much to the frustration of Denham, who needs his star to be nothing but a victim in a slinky dress.

Not this gal. Thorne shifts the narrative arc from the film’s Ahab-like pursuit of Kong by Denham, to the personal journey of Darrow, newly arrived to Gotham from the sticks, with dreams of making it big as an actress. (Yawn.) But with no showbiz break, she finds herself homeless and standing in a Depression-era soup line. Things change when her path crosses with the charming-then-smarmy Denham — played with snap and well-sung by Morris — who promises to make her a star on a mysterious movie project. In a flash they’ve set sail across the Atlantic — along with Denham’s gofer Lumpy (sweetly played by Erik Lochtefeld) — for the now-uninhabited Skull Island. Here the musical finally gains momentum, suspense and fascination with the appearance of Kong and the show’s burgeoning love story.

The giant creatures are works of art in themselves, designed with both detail and just-enough-abstraction by Sonny Tilders and manipulated by a dozen athletic onstage puppeteers plus a quartet of animatronic operators, including one live growler. Peter Mumford designed the lighting and Peter Hylenski the soundscape for these worlds of mystery on sea, land and air — and the Empire State Building, too. Kong’s furious dash to 34th street with Ann riding on his back — who’s on top now? — is one of the highlights of the show.

But it’s not just the mammoth Kong that helps carry the show but also Pitts, who plays the marathon role of Ann with infinite resilience and resolve, and sings heroically.

The show should attract eager spectacle-seekers and curious fans of the film. Whether it connects emotionally to audiences to ensure a long and profitable run on Broadway could rest on those big, dark eyes of the title character. And they’re pretty dreamy.

Broadway Review: 'King Kong'

Broadway Theatre; 1739 seats; $165 top. Opened Nov. 8, 2018; reviewed Nov. 3. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: Carmen Pavlovic, Roy Furman, Gerry Ryan, Len Blavatnik, Edward Walson, Benjamin Lowy, Bob Boyett, Peter Ivany, Harmonia Holdings, Peter May, Liebowitz/Grossman/Shields Productions, Iris Smith, Triptyk Studios, Bruce Robert Harris/Jack W. Batman, Robert Appel, Lynne & Marvin Garelick, The Shubert Organization, The Nederlander Organization, Jucamcyn Theaters, Audrey Wilf, Aleri Entertainment, Sandy Robertson, Jennifer Fischer, Fantaci/Carusi/Lachowicz, Darren DeVerna, Jere Harris, The John Gore Organization, 42nd Club, Independent Presenters Network and Global Creatures present a musical in two acts with book by Jack Thorne; composer and music producer, Marius de Vries; songs by Eddie Perfect.

Creative: Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie;  creature designer, Sonny Tilders; scenic and projection design, Peter England; costumes, Roger Kirk; lighting, Peter Mumford; sound, Peter Hylenski; orchestrations, Christopher Jahnke; music direction and additional arrangements, Michael Gacetta; production stage manager, Kathleen E. Purvis.

Cast: Christine Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtefeld,, Ashley Andrews, Mike Baerga, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Chloe Campbell, Leroy Church, Peter Chursin, Jovan 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, Britany Marcell Monachino, Jennifer Noble, Kristen Faith Oei, Eliza Ohman, Roberto Olvera, Jaquez Andre Sims, Khadija Tariyan, Jena Van Elslander, Scott Weber, Jacob Williams, Lauren Yalango-Grant, Warren Yang, David Yijae.

More Legit

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are behind the [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

  • Kiss Me Kate review

    Broadway Review: 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    No, Kate doesn’t get spanked. And for those wondering how the dicey ending of “Kiss Me, Kate” — that musical mashup of “The Taming of the Shrew” and backstage battling exes — would come across in these more sensitive times, well, that’s also been reconsidered for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Cole [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content