MONKEY BUSINESS // A THEATRE REVIEW OF "KING KONG THE MUSICAL"
Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 9:02PM
The Artswire Weekly in Christiani Pitts, Drew McOnie, Eddie Perfect, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochefeld, Jack Thorne, King Kong, Marius DeVried, Reviews by Mateo Moreno, Theatre Reviews

BY MATEO MORENO

 

Before I delve too much into anything specific, let's just say off the bat: KING KONG is amazing. The puppet that is. It's a mouth dropping wonder, one that comes to life right in front of you and shows more emotions and nuance than the entire cast put together. And every single puppeteer deserves all the credit in the world. They hop up and down and all around, bringing every inch of Kong to life (off stage, the "Voodoo operators" work their magic on Kong's face and somehow bring a genuine sense of wonder and heartbreak to the giant beast). From the first thunderous roar to the well-deserved final bow of the evening, the 50-foot star of the show deserves ALL of your applause. As for the rest of the show. Well....not so much.

 

The plot pretty much resembles the original 1933 film with a few changes, and even more changes from the Australian World Premire from a few years ago. Gone are the island natives to fight, as are the dinosaurs (though there IS a giant snake that seems straight out of a bad Godzilla movie and long vines that are... maybe alive?). Also missing is the love interest or any character other than Anne (Christiani Pitts), the film director Carl Denham (Eric William Morris) and a random character named Lumpy (Erik Lochefeld). Instead the plot centers completely on Anne moving to NY to become an actress but failing. Since she's broke and apparently been living in Central Park (though we only see about three minutes of her "journey"), she's out of options. A film director that doesn't at all seem sketchy tells her she needs to be in his next picture! That has no script! And is taking place far.... away... (if you're thinking this sounds like a kidnapping, you're not the only one). But remember, she's out of options, so she jumps onboard of Denham's movie to be shot in a location that he tells no one, but we all know it to be Skull Island. Once we arrive, Kong appears and takes the reins from everyone else.

 

Director and Choreographer Drew McOnie has pieced this epic show together with such a breakneck speed that you would think perhaps the fast-paced plot is because the world is ending. I mean, why else open with a dance number so chaotically frantic as this one (it's like seventeen dance numbers all in one, and not in a good way) and then rush through the plot instead of ever stopping to explain much of anything with the human characters? The dance style is all over the place, as is the very bad score by Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect. The good news is that there's really not that many songs. The bad news is that there's not one good one. Seriously. Not one. Hearing this score makes me REALLY scared to see Beetlejuice, Perfect's next Broadway tuner. The background score by Marius De Vries (La, La Land) is much more effective, setting the mood and pushing along scenes nicely. Which begs the question: Why is this a musical at all? If we've learned anything from epic blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or War Horse and epic disasters like Ghost or Spiderman: Turn off the Dark it's that a Broadway spectacle can tell a story WITHOUT song and dance, especially in the fantasy realm (not that War Horse is a fantasy, but can you imagine if the horses would have had taps on their hooves? Thank God for small miracles).

 

Yes, there's a lot of missteps: The giant Snake/Kong battle is the definition of lame and is half blocked from the audience randomly by a giant sheet of ice, and the Skull Island jungle has some really bad left-over set pieces from Tarzan and Spider-Man, making it feel like a few things were sitting in the alley and the director went, "Eh. Why not?" But there are some shining moments. Christiani Pitts is a more than serviceable Anne Darrow, one that, in an inspired casting choice, is African American instead of the typical Caucasian blonde. Though her character is written fairly unlikable (She really does screw over Kong badly and then in Act II can't stop talking about herself), the actress does share some lovely small moments with the giant Beast. She also has some laughable bigger moments (her "scream/roar" is pretty dumb), but it feels more like bad direction than acting. The same can't be said for Eric William Morris who overacts an underwritten role, and Erik Lochefeld who really does next to nothing, but you can tell that book writer Jack Thorne really wanted you to "feel something" with his character. Speaking of Thorne, there has been a good amount of criticism over Mr. Thorne's co-adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and although it's not perfect, I will continue to defend it, having seen it on stage several times and been moved by the dialogue as much as the magic. The book for King Kong though is wretched. I feel like he wrote it in a weekend. And he was also really, REALLY busy that weekend. And possibly drunk.

 

So, after all of that, I couldn't POSSIBLY still recommend it, right? But I am. Because of one thing: Kong. Actually, I take that back. Because of Kong and all of his puppeteers. Not only was I completely enthralled with the puppet himself, but I also was thrilled watching the team climb on and off his back, sling down on wires, and climb up his back like a million worker bees. I'm not saying go spend $500 dollars on this. But see it for the spectacle. See it and be wowed by the scenic design (the boat trip to Skull Island is pretty great as well). And maybe hum a different tune as the songs come on, because you won't care about Perfect's score, but you will care about the Beast.

 

GRADE: C-
Music by Eddie Perfect and Marius De Vries Lyrics by Eddie Perfect Book by Jack Thorne Directed and Choreographed by Drew McOnie Starring Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochefeld. Playing at The Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NYC. For more information and tickets: https://kingkongbroadway.com/

 

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