Hi there! PolyglotPisces here, and I’m overjoyed to be writing my very first post for Lady Geek Girl and Friends. I would like to take this time to introduce the theatre-loving world to a spectacle that somehow has evaded my notice until recently, despite opening months ago. And should this article strike your interest, make haste: the show closes in less than two weeks. Drum roll, please.
Ladies and gents, the World’s Eighth Wonder!
Now on stage in the great Down Under!
(See how that rhymed? That was fun.)
Yes, true believers and unbelievers, that’s right: King Kong Live on Stage. I don’t know about you, but I have definitely felt the void in my own life from the lack of gigantic animatronic apes on the musical theatre stage. Luckily, other people out there have felt it too, and they did not stop until they did something about it. The creative forces behind this musical include: music by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, and book by Craig Lucas, and also some additional music from contemporary musicians. After five years of pre-production work, King Kong opened in the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on June 15, 2013, with Carla Pavlovic as producer, Daniel Kramer as director and John O’Connell as choreographer.
The show is an adaptation of the 1933 film King Kong, directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose. (Who knew that one of the most iconic films of all time was co-written by a woman? Especially in 1933! #girlpower #readwomen2014.)
It seems to follow the story of the original film rather closely, as opposed to the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (of American Horror Story fame) in her first film role… as “Dwan”. Unfortunately, the original film’s paleo-palooza of dinosaurs found on Kong’s home island is absent (what, an enormous animatronic ape on stage isn’t enough for you?), but there is supposedly at least a giant snake.
Now on to the star of this show: The one and only “one-tonne, six-metre” giant jungle gorilla-robot-puppet-machine. One whole tonne, you guys! That’s two more letters than a ton (1 tonne = about 1.1 US tons). And 6 meters! We can’t even handle metres in America when they’re spelled “meters”—this is on a whole other level (6m = a little less than 20ft). This is definitely unprecedented on stage, and the theater had to undergo renovations just so the beast would fit. Whether you’re like me and wanted to be a zoologist when you were little (I even did a school project on Dian Fossey), or you just like geeking out at cool tech and gadgetry, this creation is sure to wow and marvel you. It takes an astounding thirty-five puppeteers/wizards to operate the robot-puppet-machine, some on-stage, some off-stage, some literally on him. As in, some of these operators are pulling, jumping, and leaping around, at times to, at times even fro, to provide the sheer physics necessary to move his arms.
It’s a period piece, in the Great Depression era of Newsies or Bonnie and Clyde, though the musical score is also largely influenced by works by ultra-modern musicians. But is the music, diverse as it may be, really strong enough in general? A brief overview of the soundtrack is available online, but the song promoted most strongly and most well-received by critics seems to be “Full Moon Lullaby”. While the rest of the music seems somewhat iffy, this particular song is indeed appropriately haunting and subtly bluesy, and the singer’s voice is brilliant. (Check it out here.)
Another musical theatre parallel people might think of is, of course, Beauty and the Beast. But how do we feel about a Beauty and the Beast where the Beast cannot speak? In the Broadway show based on the Disney film, the Beast is at his most heart-breakingly poignant when he sings the unforgettable “If I Can’t Love Her”, a song that isn’t even in the original film. His pathos is profoundly palpable in this stunning, stirring song, with powerful lyrics and grand, sweeping melodies letting his pain soar to new heights. (Seriously, it’s so good, please listen to it.) It’s certainly a tough performance for a speechless Kong to match, no matter how advanced his animatronic facial expressions are.
The show leaves us with some questions, mainly branching off of this main one: in the end, who do we really care about? Has the audience merely spent the whole show ogling the ape, and when they leave, do they even remember that there were some human beings doing some things in some places at some times? By the same turn, has the audience truly cared for Kong, or are they simply in awe of the technical feat of his presence? Has the spectacle left any room for the show?
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so King Kong closes in Melbourne on February 16th, 2014. But fear not, the production staff already has plans to take the show across the globe and open at other international venues in the coming years, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Word on the street is that, for the Broadway run, it will be in the Foxwoods Theatre, until very recently home of the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. So now I ask, readers: Would you go to this show just to see an enormous animatronic ape, regardless of the quality of story, music, writing, or acting? As for me? Yes. Yes, I definitely would.