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King Kong is a musical with music by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas and additional musical and lyrical contributions by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. It is based on the 1933 film of the same name. The original production was mounted in Australia in 2013. A Broadway production premiered in October 2018.

Development Edit

The Australian production took five years of planning and over five months of rehearsals. Its director, Daniel Kramer, said that it took "three years of auditions and workshops" before performances began. He added, "It’s tempting to focus on the spectacle of King Kong himself. But it is only through the humanity of the life around him – the people of New York City, the comic megalomania of filmmaker Carl Denham, the stubborn opposition of first mate Jack Driscoll, and the grace, beauty and power of our leading lady, Ann Darrow – that he truly takes life."

The musical, according to the 2013 press notes, "has gone back to the source – the novella of the original film by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace."

Productions Edit

An earlier version of the musical opened at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on 15 June 2013, following previews from 28 May 2013. It featured a score by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas, and additional music and lyrics by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. The production was directed by Daniel Kramer and choreographed by John O’Connell.

Originally booking through 28 July 2013, the musical extended its booking period three times, closing on 16 February 2014, after an almost nine-month run. The show was produced by Global Creatures, which partnered with animatronics workshop The Creature Technology Company, who designed the six-metre animatronic silverback title character.

Engineered, designed and built by Global Creature Technology in West Melbourne, Australia, the title role was the largest puppet ever created for the stage. The 2013 press notes stated that Kong was "a highly sophisticated animatronic/marionette hybrid that will be controlled by the integration of hydraulics, automation and the manual manipulation from a team of puppeteer/aerialists. ... A group of 35 on-stage and off-stage puppeteers work to manipulate the large-scale puppet. Several puppeteers are positioned on swinging trapezes and others launch themselves as counterweights off the puppet's shoulders to raise Kong's massive arms as he runs and swipes at planes during the performance. ... [The musical features] a cast of 49 actors, singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers; a crew of 76; and arguably the most technologically advanced puppet in the world – a one-tonne, six-metre giant silverback".

Broadway Edit

Broadway

The Broadway premiere of King Kong was originally scheduled to take place in 2014. Gerry Ryan of Global Creatures told Australian Radio Station 3AW in January 2014: "I was in New York recently and went to the theatre, and so, they're getting ready – Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's closed there at the Foxwoods and we'll be opening on December 12 [2014]." Producers soon announced delays. By September 2014, Marsha Norman was engaged to rewrite the book.

In 2015, Jason Robert Brown was added to the team "to write songs for the characters. There's a whole lot of music that already exists for King Kong." Formal presentations for the production began in February 2016.

The musical opened at the Broadway Theatre for previews on October 5, 2018, with the official opening on November 8. The creative team includes book writer Jack Thorne, director-choreographer Drew McOnie, and Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect, who replace the former creatives.

Box Office Edit

The play grossed just over a $1 Million during its opening week.

Synopsis Edit

This synopsis describes the 2013 production in Australia.

Act I Edit

In the middle of The Great Depression in New York City, film director Carl Denham is pressured to find a leading lady for his next film ("Hunting Season"). He searches the city for a woman fitting for the role but with little success ("Sweethearts on Parade/Brother Can You Spare a Dime"). Meanwhile, Ann Darrow is also struggling to cope with life in the city ("What's It Gonna Take"). She is robbed by thugs who taunt her by tossing around her belongings ("I Wanna Be Loved by You"). Denham spots her and realises she is perfect for the role. Ann is almost arrested for trying to steal an apple but Denham is able to prevent it. He offers her a job to star in his picture which she reluctantly accepts. Ann boards his ship and meets the crew including Jack Driscoll with whom she does not get along at first. The ship leaves the port as Denham thinks about how successful his new film will be ("Colossus"). The next morning Ann is nervous about her screen test but later becomes confident as she gets ready ("Special FX"). She and Jack get to know each other a little better ("Perfect') and eventually fall in love ("Foxtrot").

The ship eventually arrives at Skull Island, the crew argue about whether to turn back or explore the island but Denham insists they go ashore. They interrupt the natives' sacrificial ritual and a fight breaks out ("Ritual"). The crew head back to the ship but Ann is abducted and offered as a sacrifice to Kong ("Ascent"). The crew go to rescue her but are too late as Kong has already taken her. Jack, however is determined to get Ann back and ventures into the jungle ("In the Face of Forever"). Meanwhile, Ann wakes up to face Kong in his cave. At first she is frightened but she builds the courage to stand up to him. Kong protects her when she is almost attacked by a giant snake and they form a special bond ("Full Moon Lullaby"). While Kong falls asleep, Jack quietly approaches and Ann reluctantly goes back with him. Kong suddenly wakes and realises Ann has gone and chases after them ("The Chase"). Denham and the crew capture Kong using gas bombs to knock him out and Ann as bait, much to her dismay. Denham decides to present Kong to the public in New York.

Act II Edit

Now back in New York, Ann contemplates her experiences on Skull Island ("What's It Gonna Take") while Denham advertises for his show in which he intends to present a now captive Kong to the audience ("The Greatest Show on Earth"). Jack proposes to Ann and she accepts ("Dance with Me"). The couple are about to enter the theatre when Ann asks for a moment alone before joining him as she is caught between starting a new life with Jack and her affection and sympathy for Kong ("A Simple Prayer"). Denham presents Kong in chains to the audience much to their astonishment. Ann and Jack rush onto the stage causing Denham to panic as he is worried they will try to turn the public against him. Ann tries to console Kong but when Denham orders the guards to remove her, despite Jack warning them not to touch her, Kong believes they are trying to hurt her and breaks free as Jack quickly escapes with Ann. Denham sends out the Avalanches to entertain and calm down the nervous crowd ("Get Happy").

Kong rampages through the city in search of Ann and kills few look-alikes, but Ann manages to find him and calm him down. He gently picks her up and takes her to the top of the Empire State Building as the public watch in awe. Denham is arrested despite his protests "It was beauty killed the beast! Not me!" ("Rise"). Atop, Ann and Kong share a moment ("Full Moon Lullaby (Reprise)") but it is cut short when airplanes begin to shoot at Kong. Ann desperately yells for them stop but they don't hear her. Kong is fatally shot in the neck and falls to his death ("Amen, Opus 35"). Below, Jack reunites with a devastated Ann while the crowd gather around to see Kong's dead body.

This synopsis describes the 2018 production on Broadway.

Act I Edit

The show opens with workers building the Empire State Building. Ann Darrow, a plucky girl from the country, comes into NYC to seek out her dream of being on Broadway ("Prologue"). She auditions for a show but does not make the cut ("Dance My Way to the Light"). She auditions for a plethora of jobs, always being shot down, but still stays determined to be the star she dreams of being ("Queen of New York"). After taking refuge in a diner to escape the cold New York streets, as well as demonstrating quite the fierce side by smacking the owner after he makes an unwanted advance on her, Ann meets a man named Carl Denham. Due to Denham's quick thinking, Ann is saved from being kicked out of the diner, and he offers her food. As she eats, he explains that he is a director in need of a leading lady. He's producing a movie, the details of which are kept heavily under wraps, aside from the fact that the filming location is accessible only by boat, but promises Ann that if she takes the job, he'll make her a star. Ann agrees, and the two set off to the boat, a steamship named the S.S. Wander, helmed by Captain Englehorn and his crew (Building the Boat). Denham quickly gives introductions as Englehorn comments on the fact that they're being trailed by another boat, Denham trying to ignore it. He tells an extremely wary Ann that the ship is loaded with gas bombs of his own creation, and that they will only be used in case of a real emergency. As the ship sets off on its maiden voyage, Denham sings about what may be on Skull Island ("Setting Sail"). The next morning, Ann gets woken up by an unexpected visitor: Denham's main cameraman, Lumpy. Lumpy brings her coffee and water, and explains that the dresses in the closet should fit her. Ann thanks him for his kindness and, after he leaves, examines the dresses and wonders what exactly this whole job is going to entail ("Cabin Soliloquy"). Back on the main deck, tensions are high between Englehorn and Denham. Despite the repeated questions as to where they were going, Denham dodges every single one. ("Pressure Up"). Ann explains to Denham that she isn't your typical damsel in distress once he asks her to scream for the camera. After one full week on the water, the captain and crew are ready to snap. Englehorn pulls a gun on Denham, quickly followed by the rest of the crew, and demands that he explain why they're going to Skull Island, threatening to throw him overboard and make him find the island alone. Ann suddenly appears, brandishing a curling iron, and threatens to blow the ship up using the gas bombs if they don't let Denham go. A tense, silent standoff follows, neither party willing to budge until, finally, Englehorn tells the crew to drop their weapons and get back to work ("The Mutiny"). Denham, in complete shock and awe, tells Ann that "...you aren't a damsel in distress. You're a warrior!" Ann defends her actions, saying that Denham is her ticket to getting off the streets, and that nothing good would come out of him getting hurt. A large island looms in the distance and, as it comes into a clearer view, Denham calls the crew up to the deck and proudly proclaims that they've made it to Skull Island. He takes some shots of the island's craggy and rocky exterior before everyone disembarks, running through the seemingly alive jungle. Denham suggests that Ann climb up into some vines for a good shot and Ann immediately agrees, playing around with the vines for a bit. Suddenly, loud footsteps are heard, and the entire crew goes silent. The vines seem to tighten around Ann, who thrashes wildly in an attempt to escape, but her efforts are for naught. Kong sniffs at her, clearly intrigued, but once Denham tries his best to actually film the beast, he swipes at him, smashing the camera in the process, grabs Ann, and carries her away as she screams in terror. ("Skull Island") Kong brings Ann to a high cliff overlooking the forest ("The Ascent"). Denham, understandably angry about his camera being destroyed, suggests that he and the rest of the crew leave the island and just let Ann fend for herself, but Lumpy makes a clam that "I would only see it to believe it." Captured by inspiration and the idea that Kong would be the perfect tourist attraction back in New York, Denham grabs Lumpy and tells him that they're going to save Ann. As they climb through the forest, he sings about the opportunity Kong presents and how profitable this whole endeavor would be. ("The World"). Meanwhile, Ann wakes up to face Kong in his cave. At first she is frightened by the beast, but after having a roaring contest with him, she builds the courage to actually see beyond his harsh exterior. Kong protects her when she is almost attacked by a giant snake (The Cobra Fight), and as Ann patches his wounds, the two form a special bond ("Full Moon Lullaby"). While Kong falls asleep, Ann, realizing that she's still in danger, quickly runs off down back into the jungle. She doesn't make it too far before Kong realizes she's gone, prompting him to chase after her ("The Descent"). Ann bumps in to Denham and Lumpy, the latter of whom is overjoyed to see her, and Denham explains that he has a plan to save her. He tells her that a queen would scream for Kong, and she remorsefully does exactly that, bringing Kong right to where the rest of the ship's crew is waiting, gas bombs at the ready. Kong bursts through the trees and gets immediately gassed. Ann looks on in horror as he falls to the ground, unconscious ("Kong's Capture").

Act II Edit

("Entr'acte: The Voyager Returns") Back in New York, Denham advertises for his show in which he intends to present a now captive Kong to audiences ("It's Man"). During rehearsal ("The Wild and Perilous Sea") Ann, feeling guilt and remorse due to deceiving Kong and him getting hurt, abandons the rehearsal and runs off. Denham chases after her, finding her outside the theater, trying to collect her thoughts. She explains that she can't put on a show like this since she cares too much about Kong. Denham scoffs at the idea of Ann and Kong sharing a friendship and threatens her, telling her that all he would have to do is tell the press that she's insane, and she'd never land a job again. Ann, completely horrified at Denham's behavior and holding back tears, decides to visit Kong where he is being held captive. She explains that she never meant for any of the past events to happen, that she never wanted him to get hurt, and that if they both play their parts, everything might just be alright ("Last of Our Kind"). At first, Kong doesn't respond to her, let alone look at her, but after she notices that he hasn't been eating and that he's effectively dying, aggressively commenting on that fact, the two finally start to rekindle their friendship. Opening night begins, and Ann is still unsure about this whole show ("Last of Our Kind" (Reprise). Lumpy visits Ann's dressing room and gives her flowers, telling her that she reminds him of his young daughter Maggie who had died at age 14 from smallpox. He says that Maggie would think of her as a hero and reminds her that good people make good choices. After he leaves, Ann finally decides where her loyalties lie. She goes onstage and starts the performance, but when it comes time for her to scream for Kong, she notices just how much he's deteriorating. Despite Denham's repeated demands for her to scream and wake Kong up, she defiantly tells both him and the audience that she won't scream for anyone or anything ("Scream for the Money"). She shouts for Kong to fight back and is quickly grabbed and dragged offstage, where she lets out a true scream. This is what seemingly brings the life back into Kong's eyes, and he swiftly breaks free from his shackles as the curtain falls. Denham tries to keep the audience and remaining actors onstage calm ("Dance My Way to the Light" (Reprise), but this falls flat due to Kong's almost earth-shaking roars from behind the curtain. Kong rampages through the city in an attempt to find Ann ("Broadway Nightmare"). The two finally find each other, and Kong gestures for Ann to climb up onto his back. As she does so, the army bursts in and starts firing at Kong, who takes off running ("NYC Chase"). Kong stops at the bottom of the half-completed Empire State Building and immediately starts climbing it, Ann still clinging to his back ("Empire Ascent"). Back at the theater, Denham is left alone, the stage in shambles. Lumpy enters and announces that he's quitting, much to Denham's shock. He explains that what they did wasn't right and that it isn't about the money. He then exits the theater, leaving Denham sitting alone on an empty stage ("The World" (Reprise). On top of the Empire State Building, Ann climbs down off of Kong's back and marvels at just how small everything looks from up there. She then notices that Kong is slowly dying and pleads with him to stay with her, telling him that "...we could go anywhere with just the two of us." Smoke trails are visible on the horizon. Ann, noticing the trails, immediately starts calling to the people on the ground, begging them not to shoot. Army planes come in to shoot Kong down ("Air War"). Kong destroys plane after plane, taking many bullets to the chest and face in the process. As the last plane is destroyed, he stands up fully and roars, beating his chest in triumph. Alas, the victory is short-lived as another set of planes swoop by, firing on him again. This time, he doesn't fight back. Giving Ann one last look, the great beast falls off of the Empire State Building, plummeting to his death and leaving Ann all alone ("Empire Soliloquy"). Ann grieves over the loss of Kong as she manages to make her way down from the Empire State Building. As she reaches the streets, she tries to spread the world on how Kong wasn't a monster, nor was he an attraction to be displayed. He was, to put it simply, a wonder ("The Wonder").

Characters and original cast Edit

Character Australia (2013) Reading (2016) Workshop (2017) Broadway (2018)
Ann Darrow Esther Hannaford Lora Lee Gayer Eva Noblezada Christiani Pitts
Carl Denham Adam Lyon Marc Kudisch Eric William Morris
Lumpy N/A Tom Nelis Erik Lochtefeld
The Bartender N/A Bradley Dean Harley Jay
Captain Englehorn Richard Piper N/A Akron Watson Rory Donovan
Jack Driscoll Chris Ryan Euan Morton N/A
Cassandra Queenie van de Zandt N/A
Benny N/A Robert Creighton N/A
Young Jack N/A Cole Edelstein N/A
Voice of Kong N/A Benny Elledge Harley Durst Jon Hoche
King Kong N/A Sam Foster N/A

Musical numbers Edit

Original Melbourne production (2013) Edit

Act I
  • "Hunting Season" – Carl Denham
  • "Sweethearts on Parade" – Busker Quartet
  • "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" – Company
  • "What's It Gonna Take?" – Ann Darrow
  • "I Wanna Be Loved by You" – The Company
  • "Colossus" – Carl
  • "Special FX" – Ann and Company
  • "Perfect" – Jack Driscoll
  • "Foxtrot" – Instrumental
  • "Ritual" – High Priestess and Company
  • "The Ascent" – Instrumental
  • "In the Face of Forever" – Jack
  • "Full Moon Lullaby" – Ann
  • "The Chase" – Instrumental
Act II
  • "What's It Gonna Take? (Reprise)" – Ann
  • "The Greatest Show on Earth" – Carl, Cassandra and Company
  • "Dance with Me" – Jack
  • "A Simple Prayer" – Ann
  • "Kill 4 the Thrill" - Carl and Company
  • "Get Happy" – Company
  • "Rise" – Cassandra and Company
  • "Full Moon Lullaby (Reprise)" – Ann
  • "Amen, Opus 35" – Instrumental

Original Broadway production (2018) Edit

Act I
  • "Prologue" - Company
  • "Dance My Way to the Light" - Female Ensemble
  • "Queen of New York" - Ann Darrow and Company
  • "Building the Boat/Setting Sail" - Carl Denham and Orchestra
  • "Cabin Soliloquy" - Ann and Company
  • "Pressure Up" - Captain Englehorn and Male Ensemble
  • "The Mutiny" - Carl, Captain Englehorn and Male Ensemble
  • "Skull Island" - Orchestra
  • "The Ascent" - Orchestra
  • "The World" - Carl
  • "The Cobra Fight" - Orchestra
  • "Full Moon Lullaby" - Ann
  • "The Descent" - Orchestra
  • "Kong’s Capture" - Orchestra
Act II
  • "Entr’acte: The Voyager Returns" - Orchestra
  • "It’s Man" - Carl, Ann and Company
  • "The Wild and Perilous Sea" - Company
  • "Last of Our Kind" - Ann
  • "Last of Our Kind (Reprise)" - Female Ensemble
  • "Scream for the Money" - Ann and Company
  • "Dance My Way to the Light (Reprise)" - Orchestra
  • "Broadway Nightmare" - Ann and Female Ensemble
  • "NYC Chase" - Orchestra
  • "Empire Ascent" - Orchestra
  • "The World (Reprise)" - Carl
  • "Air War" - Orchestra
  • "Empire Soliloquy" - Ann
  • "The Wonder" - Ann and Company

Reception Edit

Kong opened on 15 June 2013 to mixed reviews. The majority of critics lauded the visuals and the cast, but reacted negatively to the music, book and lyrics. Aussie Theatre wrote, "It’s spectacular. Visually and technically, this is theatre that we haven’t seen before", but went on to say, "The story isn’t there. There’s a plot based on assuming the audience know King Kong’s film story, but it’s filled with illogical leaps, clunky dialogue and the melodrama of unearned emotion. It feels like it was written around the spectacle." In terms of the score, it wrote, "The music is forgettable. It’s not boring, but it doesn’t move the story, show character or add much more than a beat for the spectacle that it’s supporting", claiming that "the most successful number is Ann’s lullaby to Kong on Skull Island."

Australian Stage reviewed the show similarly, writing "The storyline does suffer from a lack of character development and an over-use of musical numbers that are sometimes more razzle-dazzle than relevant to the actual story." It also reacted negatively to the original character Cassandra, writing "...adding [her] was another unnecessary idea. With little to do and dressed in a costume that seemed more relevant to Wicked, one was left bewildered by her presence, although Queenie van de Zandt produced another strong performance in the role." In a 3 1/2 star review, The Sunday Morning Herald believed the show to "[impress] on many levels", adding, "if it falls short, it’s because our expectations are so sky high. As such, it is a showcase for a technology’s potential and also its limitations. It is a novel, intermittently powerful but synthetic spectacle that seeks to be more."

Awards and nominations Edit

Original Melbourne production Edit

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2013 Helpmann Awards Best New Australian Work Nominated
Best Female Actor in a Musical Esther Hannaford Nominated
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical Chris Ryan Nominated
Best Original Score Marius de Vries (original music), Michael Mitnickand Richard Thomas(additional lyrics), featuring Songs and Original Compositions by 3D, Guy Garvey, Sarah McLachlan, Justice and The Avalanches Nominated
Best Costume Design Roger Kirk Won
Best Scenic Design Peter England Won
Best Lighting Design Peter Mumford Won
Best Sound Design Peter Hylenski Won
Outstanding Theatrical Achievement * Won
  • The award for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement was created by the Industry Awards Panel and Helpmann Awards Administration Committee for the "design, creation and operation of King Kong – the creature." The panel and administration felt that the "ground breaking Australian creation, the first of its kind in the world, was worthy of individual recognition.”

Videos Edit

Kong Broadway Trailer

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