The enduring popularity of the singularly giant gorilla, King Kong, may cause many to hail his leap to the musical stage as a natural progression of his monstrous fame. Australian fans will be particularly delighted by the prospect of seeing this home-grown musical, premiered in our very own Melbourne. Featuring music by Marius de Vries, composer for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Romeo+Juliet, Sarah McLachlan and many others, King Kong is every inch an “eye-popping spectacle” (Herald Sun).
Not knowing any of this, I went along to see the production that blew the mind of the Age and found that yes, my eyes popped and my mind was indeed blown – with disappointment.
I will concede now that King Kong is difficult to adapt to the stage. The story is not built on human relationships, but on atmosphere and spectacle – problematic where the area in which the large-scale spectacle is to be created is the relatively small stage of the Regent Theatre. Moreover, the fact that a giant gorilla must be recreated on that same stage without the aid of CGI poses challenges. The show could easily lose plausibility, and become laughable.
This being said, the production team managed to pull off the spectacle aspect of the film with admirable success. The lighting and sets were stunning. Moving points of light were used to evoke the night sky, later echoed in the young captain’s climb across a web of light as he sang. There was impressive use of puppetry, not least in the awe inspiring King Kong who realistically moved to the rhythm of people dressed in black. A battle between a glowing serpent and the gorilla, both puppets, was also enacted convincingly.
However this could not redeem the fact that the musical score was thematically scattered, trite, dull and corny in the same breath. Removing every performance number, the score would have worked well as a film score to support the building of the atmosphere. In supporting the story, it failed utterly. Almost every song felt contrived and ill-placed, and all were amazingly unmemorable. While the performers put in their best efforts, even this was not enough to restore the damage done by the multiple composers who put together a disparate and inappropriate score.
The script was also somehow lacking in its ability to convincingly portray believable characters who could earn the audience’s empathy. Time constraints meant that characters who had just met fell in love within the course of a single song, and that almost nothing was said about their history. Personalities were assumed rather than conveyed, and even the actors themselves seemed uncertain about how their character was supposed to be feeling or acting.
Combining all these factors and perhaps a natural dislike of gorillas, King Kong failed to hold my attention. It was boring, the last thing a musical would ever wish to be. There’s only so long you can spend being amazed by people moving a giant black gorilla around the stage. Where it succeeded in atmosphere and gimmicks, it failed in the essentials of a musical – characters, story, and above all, score.
If you hurry, you can still see it and make up your mind for yourself – it’s been extended but must close by February 16th. Be prepared to have your mind blown.