No One Stood Up to King Kong

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Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and “King Kong”
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Review: Broadway’s King Kong

By Ross

I knew the drama surrounding the reviews when I walked into the Broadway Theater to see the colossal new xxl size musical, King Kong, that arrived fresh off the boat from its trial run in Sydney. My theatre companion and I were hopeful, praying to the theatre gods that we would be given a good time and be amazed by the design and creation. We were well aware that the New York Times trashed the show mercilessly (although I won’t read the review until I post this one), but it didn’t rule out the possibility of us being entertained. We wanted it, and in some ways we were, although I must admit that there are tremendous failures within the show, and although the mechanics astound, the overall journey, as directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie (London’s Strictly Ballroom) is a shipwreck, leaving us slightly stunned and slack-jawed, washed up on  the shore saddened by the destruction around us. One can’t help wondering how the creative team couldn’t have seen the jagged rocks and faulty choices made all around? Someone had to have seen the problems: the lyrics, the dialogue/book, the awkward dynamics and pacing. And wonder, why, oh why did no one stand up to that beast of a show and state the obvious. Cry out that sharp rocks are up ahead of this finely created stage boat, that would shipwreck the vessel for sure.
King Kong
Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and Eric William Morris as “Carl Denham”
Photo by Joan Marcus
Questions abound, bouncing around in our minds as we shake our heads throughout. Why did the set designer (Peter England) make the cityscapes so deeply authentic and spectacular but make the jungle look like a laser show at a rave party; void of all organic vegetation quality? Why have they chosen to bask more in clever explosions of moon light rather than giving us a jungle-like setting that we could get lost in? Why are the jungle dancers dressed as glow stick cirque de soleil acrobats rather than something that equated more to actual jungle creatures? My list could go on, basically taking aim at the dialogue, music and lyrics, set design, choreography, and direction, but one can’t help wondering how this wasn’t seen and fixed before hand. The costumes by Roger Kirk and the lighting by Peter Mumford never fail like the other design choices, but it breaks my heart to say some of the things I feel I must. I always think and feel that everyone involved in a show works their hardest to create magic and beauty. I truly believe that, as no one puts all that energy into creating a mess of a show. The problem though is when no one can see through the fog of creation and ask a few strong questions. If no one does shout out a warning, a show begins to grow unruly, morphing into a giant beast that can’t be tamed. 
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Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and The Company of KING KONG
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The show starts out beautifully, giving us a visually spectacular view through its strong set and projection design by England (Global Creatures/DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon). Credit is also given for video and projection imaging content going to Artists In Motion, that takes us majestically down from the heights of a growing New York City skyline heaven, lowering us into a sea of hopeful actors dreaming of and struggling for a better day tomorrow. The choreography by McOnie is aggressive and athletic, but morphs into being overly choppy and distracting. Only in the moments of transition does a balletic sense of emotional beauty come striving forward. Generally though, the movements and dance moments lean towards awkwardness and distraction, even in its interesting lines and silhouettes. Very athletic and powerfully talented, the team of dancers do their damnedest, trying to fulfill our expectations, but are sadly misused. The muscle of Fake Carl, wonderfully embodied by the glorious Casey Garvin (Broadway/1st national’s Disaster!) and his cohorts ham it up just as they should in the musical within the musical, possibly being satirically more fun than the actual King Kong musical. One of the most ridiculous moments is when the giant ape has escaped onto the streets of New York, and the pedestrians are dancing around to choreography that makes no logical connection to what is happening, sapping all tension and excitement away from what everyone had created in the scene just prior. Again. Why? I just had to shake my head in wonderment and disappointment. Could no one see the disconnect?
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The Company of KING KONG
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The music, lyrics, and story (written by Jack Thorne; score composed and produced by Marius de Vries; songs by Eddie Perfect), in general are far from perfect, descending into something surprisingly flat footed. It rarely raises us up to the heights of that first visual, with lyrics as obvious and stale as one can image. It’s such a shame as many of these eager souls are giving you their all, dancing with precision and singing with all their heart and soul. The sound design (Peter Hylenski) is loud, but fails to magnify the leads, forcing their voices into a flatness which just breeds disregard. The amplification and overall book and lyrics are not a gift to the central characters, shoving them into awkward moments of song that seem to slam the brakes on any energy the rest of the show has created. The dialogue between the human actors, especially with Carl Denham, played by the fine Eric William Morris (OCR’s Things to Ruin) is manageable, although the moments between him and the handsome Captain Englehorn, played by the strong presence of Rory Donovan (Broadway’s Finding Neverland) feel inauthentic and childish. The strongest comes forward in the meek secondary role of ‘Lumpy’ beautifully enacted by Eric Lochtefeld (Broadway’s Misery, Metamorphoses), finally giving us a character we can connect with. But when Ann Darrow, played energetically by a mediocre Christiana Pitts (Broadway’s A Bronx Tale), has words with the ape, the interaction is laughable, feeling far too casual and modern for a period musical with any emotional depth. Her singing is decent, but one had to wonder why she never truly shines bright within this musical. Is it because the songs never rise to the level required to give us that big leading actress moment? Or does she not have the ability or range? You decide and let me know, cause I’m confused. 
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Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow,” Eric William Morris as “Carl Denham” and Erik Lochtefeld as “Lumpy”
Photo by Matthew Murphy
When King Kong arrives, we rejoice, as we are finally given a reason to pay attention. He is a wonder, dazzling us with the wizardry of puppet magic, courtesy of creature designer Sonny Tlders and Kong/aerial movement director Gavin Robins. Simply astounding, worked by a large team of talented creationists, the creature, for the most part, steals all the energy away from everything else, even making the giant snake look foolish in comparison. And that is truly a blessing, because even with the talent on stage doing their utmost to entertain, they are climbing up a far too steep mountain, and can’t be faulted for slipping down. The exploding moon is a fitting metaphor, for something that could have been magnificent, it inauthentically shatters out into the night for no apparent reason, other than the faulty idea that it might dazzle. But unfortunately, it just seems inauthentic, sadly two-dimensional, and completely disconnecting. 
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Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and “King Kong”
Photo by Matthew Murphy
KING KONG
Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street, NYC Book by Jack Thorne
Composer and Music Producer Marius de Vries Songwriter Eddie Perfect
Directed and Choreographed by Drew McOnie

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