King Kong Is Back to Climb the Empire State Building

Culture Watch

Look out everybody, the Big Guy is back.

King Kong, who made his debut in the classic 1933 film, is once again carrying off gorgeous Ann Darrow, killing prehistoric monsters and climbing New York’s Empire State building to face the planes, this time at the Broadway Theater at Broadway and W. 53rd Street, in New York. He is big. He is powerful. He is Kong, the mighty eighth wonder of the world.

As everybody knows from the 1933 movie, and its remakes, tough guy showman Carl Denham sails off to Skull Island in the South Pacific to find a legendary, over-sized gorilla, King Kong. The tribesmen on the island kidnap actress Ann Darrow, whom Denham was going to star in his gorilla film, and offer her to King Kong as a sacrifice. The big ape falls in love with Ann, though. She escapes, the gorilla is caught and Denham brings him back to New York as an entertainment extravaganza.

This new musical, that opened last week, follows that plot, sort of, but cuts a lot of corners and gives the story some new and poorly planned twists and turns. All of the songs in the show give it a new look, too, and the do not help much. There is a new, bigger emphasis on Kong and that overshadows a lot of the movie’s story.

The question everybody asks is what does the new, huge ape look like? Is he as frightening as the movie Kongs, and there have been many? The answer is yes, oh yes. This huge, two story high gorilla puppet, maneuvered by 14 people, rises up, roars, walks, turns around, pounds his chest ferociously and flails his arms, along with giving both loving and scared looks with his head (a motor runs the head). He is the ape’s ape, and as lovable as he is feared. The best scene in this show, in any play I’ve ever seen, is when Kong runs down 34th street with Ann Darrow riding on his back It is sensational, just terrific.

The play, written by Jack Thorne, gives you a good deal of 1930s history. The scenic design is super and filled with mammoth illustrations of Times Square and other New York City neighborhoods and the docks, in addition to the top of the Empire State building, in the 1930s. You learn a lot about travel, shipping, show business and people’ attitude in that era. There is a marvelous little scene of people on a bread line during the Great Depression, too.

There are a number of problems with the show, though, directed by Drew McOnie. First, there is too much Kong and too little story. The Big Guy parades all over the stage again and again and again and continually roars (you can hear him in Georgia). A lot of the timeless story about the huge gorilla and Skull Island gets lost. Example: in this musical there is no island village, no tribesmen and women and no colossal wooden wall to protect the villagers from Kong. Ann Darrow has no love interest in the story, as she did in the movie, and most of the ship’s crew has been cut from the script.

Second, Miss Darrow has been changed dramatically and not for the better. In the 1933, movie Ann was terrified by the big ape, but here she seemingly has become the head of PETA and pleads with everybody to let Kong go. She visits him when he is in chains and flirts with him! Come on. You flirt with a two-story high gorilla? The only thing you do when you see a two-story high gorilla is run.Third, the main characters have been hollowed out, even the blustery entrepreneur. Carl Denham. He and all the others are one-dimensional in this musical. Fourth, the music in the play, score by Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect, is easily forgettable, although Christiani Pitts, as Darrow, has a good voice and is a decent actress. She is no Fay Wray, though. The cast is solid, but needs a better story. Pitts plays Darrow, Eric William Morris plays Denham, Erick Lochtefeld plays Lumpy and Rory Donovan is Captain Englehorn.

King Kong is a technological wonder. He looks just like a gorilla, moves like one and, boy, does he have a mean streak. He is also cute and cuddly. The audience just loved him and so did I. I’d love to take him home as a pet. I don’t know where I’d keep him n the house, though. The den is a bit small for him and, hey, where do you buy food for a 2,000-pound gorilla? He’d monopolize the television, too, watching Animal Planet all day.

The musical is not much and needs help from somewhere, somehow. The enormous and delightful King Kong character, though, is, well, AAAAARRRRGGGHHH…

PRODUCTION: The show is produced by Carmen Pavlovic, Roy Furman, Gerry Ryan, others. Scenic and Projector Design: Peter England, Creature Designer: Sonny Tilders, Costumes: Roger Kirk, Lighting: Peter Mumford, Sound: Peter Hylenski, Imaging Content: Artists in Motion. The play is directed by Drew McOnie. It has an open-ended run

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