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'King Kong' is Back in New York

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

With the opening of 'King Kong' on Broadway, an NYC icon comes home

Although he first climbed the Empire State Building in 1933, King Kong is once again rising to new heights, this time as the star of his own Broadway show. And not only has this classic film been turned into a stage production, but it’s also a musical as well. Begging the questions: “Does Kong sing?” and “Does he still fall in love with Ann Darrow and carry her to the peak of what was then New York’s tallest skyscraper?” Critics will tell us all about it when it opens November 8th at the Broadway Theatre, with the audience as final arbiter in determining if this ape has legs.


‘King Kong’ opens on Broadway on Nov. 8 (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

‘King Kong’ opens on Broadway on Nov. 8 (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

According to an article in the July 2018 New York Times, King Kong is budgeted for up to $36.5 million, which though not quite a record (2011’s Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark continues to hold that particular distinction), is still quite a chunk of change. Thirteen people are required to handle the chores of creating Kong, which makes one wonder: if he is nominated for Best Actor at the Tony Awards, will a baker’s dozen taking to the stage to share the trophy? Not only would that be the first time the Tony was given for a performance in a non-human role, it would also be the first time it was awarded for the performance of a character who hadn’t spoken a word or sung a note.

All kidding aside, the project has been no laughing matter, having been in development for ten years, with its world premiere occurring almost four years ago in Melbourne, Australia. In that time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into it, along with many changes in personnel. A number of directors have come and gone, as well as songwriters, who have had their work accepted and rejected. The current credit for the score is attributed to Marius de Vries (who contributed songs to La La Land) and Eddie Perfect (Beetlejuice the Musical, also coming to Broadway this season). Also since Melbourne, a new book has been written by Jack Thorne, responsible for his skillful adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2. Thorne has been quoted as saying “This wasn’t on my radar – doing a big musical with a massive puppet – but as soon as I saw what they’d built, I couldn’t turn it down.”

                                           Christiani Pitts as Ann Darrow (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

King Kong is directed and choreographed by Olivier winner Drew McOnie, who has been brought on since Melbourne. In a recent interview with The Guardian, McOnie tells of first viewing Kong in an industrial hangar in Melbourne where the creature was being stored. “The thing that completely bowled me over was his eyes. There’s a weird quietness around him that’s hard to explain. It was a very emotional experience.” And if McOnie gets it right, the creature will come alive before our eyes, in spite of the fact he’s completely animatronic. Let me count the ways:

  • Inside him are 985 feet of electrical cable and 16 microprocessors.
  • His facial expressions alone are controlled by 15 small industrial motors, the same ones NASA used in its Mars rovers.
  • Each of his hands is roughly 4 feet wide and 4 feet long.
  • He’s 20 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds.

                                     The company of ‘King Kong’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy) 

And let’s not forget that although King Kong has taken its rightful place in the annals of monster adventure films, it is, first and foremost, a love story. For the musical, the role of Ann Darrow, first created by Fay Wray, and later portrayed in remakes by Jessica Lange (1976) and Naomi Watts (2005), is played by Christiani Pitts (A Bronx Tale). “Back in the '30s, when the original film was made, Hollywood peddled escapism,” Pitts told a reporter at SyFi Wire, “which offered a caricature of a woman who was always really pretty, and always put together, and always happy. In this version, there are many constraints that she is forced to fit in, and you watch her constantly try to break those chains and try to break those molds. There are moments where she's not very pretty, and not very strong, but she's constantly fighting to keep herself alive.”

With any luck, King Kong will not have to fight to stay alive. Advance word is positive, with audiences cheering at the curtain calls. And with all due respect to Ms. Pitts, guess who takes the final bow?

For more of the biggest shows on Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in November 2018.

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