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Meet the Beast: 5 Mind-Blowing Facts about the Simian Star of ‘King Kong: The Musical’

Category Broadway

|by Danielle Moore |


At 20 feet tall and 2,500 pounds, Kong is easily the biggest star on Broadway this season

This fall, a New York icon as famous as the Empire State Building itself will take center stage at the Broadway Theatre. King Kong: The Musical will bring the eponymous gorilla – who originated in the 1933 black-and-white film King Kong, which was adapted into a successful stage musical in Australia – back home. But it took several years of workshopping, creative team swap-outs, and technological innovation to tackle the challenge of translating this larger-than-life character to the Broadway stage. On October 18th, Producer Carmen Pavlovic (CEO of Global Creatures Technology, which created the puppet used in the show; Moulin Rouge! The Musical), creature designer Sonny Tilders (Walking with Dinosaurs) and director-choreographer Drew McOnie (In the Heights) took the time to introduce audiences to Kong, and his impressive theatrical capabilities, at a “Meet the Beast” event at the Broadway Theatre. Here’s what we learned about the creature who is – quite literally – the biggest star on Broadway right now.  

 

Global Creatures’ massive Kong puppet, opposite Christiani Pitts (‘A Bronx Tale’) as Ann Darrow (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Global Creatures’ massive Kong puppet, opposite Christiani Pitts (‘A Bronx Tale’) as Ann Darrow (Photo: Joan Marcus)

He’s in pretty good shape
At 20 feet tall and 2,500 pounds – which, if he were a human, would give him a BMI of roughly 30.5% – the show’s Broadway debut-making star should pack some serious gravitas. But although he might sound pretty hefty to the average theatergoer, Kong is actually light for a puppet of his size, Tilders explained – and muscular, too.

He’s clean-shaven
It was important to the creative team, said Tilders, that the puppet – unlike his filmic counterparts – was “not slavishly realistic,” so as to allow the character to “make a worthy transition into a theatrical context.” This lead them to forgo fur for a more flexible skin that gives Kong a lean, malleable silhouette that, with the help of his fan-forced inflatable core, accentuates his movements. “He’s essentially just one big bean bag,” Tilders said, eliciting several growls of disapproval from the beast himself.

Kong’s performance is truly an ensemble piece
Kong owes his performance to three separate teams of professionals. First, there are those managing the cables that suspend Kong from the rafters – the location where, at the end of each performance, the puppet is stored. Then there’s the King’s Company, a group of highly athletic dancers who maneuver Kong’s appendages, composing much of his lateral and vertical movement onstage. Finally, there is a team of 3 “voodoo” performers who, located in the balcony of the theater, make up Kong’s voice, facial expressions and shoulder movements via state-of-the-art audio animatronic technology.

As an actor, he’s got serious range...
This voodoo team works with a palette of 45 distinct “axes” on which to manipulate Kong, expressions that include everything from a blink to a shrug. These pre-programmed gestures are then combined and mixed into different sequences, meaning that “In some ways,” as Tilders explained, “he has an infinite number of expressions.”

Even though he doesn’t speak, sing or dance
But anyone expecting this New York City icon to break into song and dance, simply because he’s starring in a Broadway musical, would be sorely mistaken. (Even though, as Director Drew McOnie quipped, “He can actually twerk – it’s quite entertaining.”) According to the show’s director, imposing these realistic restrictions on Kong’s behavior were viewed less as a storytelling limitation than an opportunity. McOnie asserts that the unconventional means of communication between Kong and Ann Darrow (A Bronx Tale’s Christiani Pitts) is part of what makes Kong’s tale – in which “a damsel can become a warrior, and a beast can become a friend” – unique.

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

 

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