King Kong Roars on Broadway
When The Knick team heard an Australian musical production of King Kong was Broadway-bound, we weren’t too inspired. Isn’t that a little…tacky for New York? But, during previews, rumors were that the famous ape was actually mesmerizing. So we went to a pre-opening show to find out.
Needless to say…we were legitimately wowed. Despite being a well-trod story, King Kong is totally new, and brings a fresh energy to Broadway, hopefully encouraging other productions to reach new heights as well.
Here’s why you should actually see King Kong.
The Familiar Story
There are only a few main characters in King Kong, which opens in Great Depression-era New York City. Christiani Pitts, previously in A Bronx Tale, plays the feisty Ann Darrow, a down-on-her-luck actress who moved to the Big Apple hoping to become a star. One day, she encounters Carl Denham (played by Eric William Morris), an enterprising film director with a secretive plan to make a blockbuster. Convinced that Darrow is his missing link—or perhaps just desperate for someone desperate enough to go along with his plan without asking questions—he hires Darrow to join his fledgeling production, which sets sail for a mystery location that night. After a few near hiccups at sea, they arrive at Skull Island, where an enormous ape rules the roost. You basically know the rest…
Pitts is magnificent as Darrow, giving her a fierce strength that’s anything but the damsel in distress. Morris, too, excels: his Denham is blinded by ambition, and he nearly fools us as well.
Pitts and Morris are excellent, it’s true. But the star of the show is King Kong himself—or maybe the 15 master puppeteers who control him? Weighing a staggering 2,000 pounds, the ape comes alive with stunning nimbleness. And his eyes. Those eyes! Somehow, the puppet has enchantingly expressive facial features—enough to elicit a theater-full of sympathy. “Creature designer” Sonny Tilders doesn’t hide the rigging that supports Kong, and the puppeteers that skillfully maneuver him are mostly onstage. We loved that aspect, however, seeing it as further evidence of Kong’s imprisonment.
The cast album isn’t out yet, but we can’t wait to re-listen to some of our favorite songs from King Kong. A few we loved: “Dance My Way to the Light,” in which an ensemble of actors struggles to get their big break; the beautiful “Full Moon Lullaby,” in which Darrow sings Kong to sleep, and “Last of Our Kind,” in which she muses on her and Kong’s similar fate.
Scenic designer Peter England’s sets are ingenious. Watching the crew hoist the rigging and build the ship that transports cast and audience alike to Skull Island was one of our favorite segments of the piece. And Kong’s epic climb to the top of the Empire State Building garnered cheers thanks to its smart handling.
Critics or Crowds…Who will Decide?
Since we saw the show, King Kong has officially opened, ushering in a flood of reviews. The critics all contend that Kong himself is a masterpiece and a jaw-dropping piece of theater-work. But they had lukewarm reactions to the rest of the show. Still, audiences are flocking: this past week, it raked in nearly $1M.
AFTER THE SHOW…
Head over to The Knick, just a few blocks away, for rooftop drinks atop Times Square at St. Cloud.
DISCOVER THE BEST OF BROADWAY
Looking for the right show to see? Let The Knick be your guide. Check out our reviews of some of Broadways biggest current hits, like Hamilton, Frozen, Come from Away, Once on This Island, Mean Girls, and more.