Musical Review: King Kong

I’m not generally one for plays and musicals. Film and television is my usual forte. But on a whim, with a couple of like-minded friends, I decided to expand my cultural horizons and spend Thursday night indulging in the already critically acclaimed stage version of King Kong. And in typical Gen-Y fashion, upon walking out of Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, all I could say was “Mind equals blown”.Clad in not-so-casual attire, I watched in awe as seasoned performers glided across the stage, their acting, singing and dancing abilities, and at times circus antics, all in check as they brought the King Kong story to life.If you’re not familiar with the tale, an oversized ape is seized from his habitat at Skull Island and brought to New York by Carl Denham, a desperately ambitious filmmaker, to appear on Broadway as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. He’s only friend a country-girl-turned-movie-star, Ann Darrow.The 1930s fable has been adapted into a number of technologically different films over the past 80 years—most notably the original feature in 1933, which combined stop motion with live action, and has been compared to the innovativeness of Star Wars in the late 70s. The gravity of the King Kong franchise itself and its countless references in pop culture — for instance, ‘King Homer’ in a Halloween edition of The Simpsons — means it’s known to many generations. A musical would have to be the next logical step.It’s obvious that massive efforts went into the creative process: hundreds of detail attentive costumes; unbelievable sets and a teetering stage that transform from jungle, to ship, to city night life; experimental music ranging pop, balladry, electronica and classic show tunes like “Get Happy”; and illusionary lighting and projections. But the six-metre high and one-tonne silverback gorilla was by far the most intriguing and impressive feat. So life-like in its features and so wonderfully manipulated, by a team of assumedly-fit puppeteers, that the audience appeared to quake. Digital enhancements, to its face especially, made the beast simultaneously amiable and chilling.Esther Hannaford is flawless as the leading lady, presenting as shy and courageous, a perfect fit as the beauty, Ann. Her standout musical number came as she is captured on the island by Kong and lulls him to sleep with the subtle tones of “Full Moon Lullaby”.It’s hard to ignore Carl, the callous antagonist portrayed by Adam Lyon. As the strongest personality in the ensemble, he really is reminiscent of Jack Black, who played the same character in the 2005 movie remake. Meanwhile, Chris Ryan is Jack Driscoll, the ship’s headstrong first mate and love interest for Ann, who is a charming addition to the cast.Of course, the infamous Empire State Building scene brings the show to a dramatic end, leaving the audience emotional yet amply entertained. Kudos to director Daniel Kramer, composer and arranger Marius De Vries, and the rest of the creative team for their impeccable work, which ensured the show’s success.King Kong is currently exclusive to Melbourne. More details can be found on the website.by Jessica Buccolieri

June 30th 2013
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