Saturday, 15 June 2013

King Kong, June 15, 2013****

Book by Craig Lucas; Original music by Marius De Vries
Other songs: 3D from Massive Attack, Guy Garvey, Sarah McLachlan, Justice, The Avalanches; additional lyrics by Michael Mitnick, Richard Thomas; presented by Global Creatures
Regent Theatre, Melbourne, no closing date
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 15
Stars: ****
Review of opening night June 15 also published online in Herald Sun June 15 and on Sunday June 16 in print. KH
 Photo by Joe Calleri

When King Kong first emerges from the dim mists of SkulI Island, roaring and beating his chest, he has the audience gaping in awe.

The six-metre Kong is the runaway star of this new musical and the most fully developed character on stage because of his expressive, almost human face, imposing physicality, majesty and grace.

It is heartbreaking to witness such a magnificent – albeit mechanical – creature chained, tranquillised then exhibited as a freak show.

Thanks to his creators (designer, Sonny Tilders) and operators (puppetry director, Peter Wilson), Kong lives, breathes and communicates; he roars with unfettered rage, complains, grieves, is jealous, wretched, combative, childish or protective.

Even his on-stage and off-stage operators get rousing applause for their feats of athletic puppetry and animatronic operation.

This big-budget, global premiere is an eye-popping spectacle designed to appeal to 21st century audiences that demand relentless action, colour and movement in their entertainment.

The cast is superlative and Esther Hannaford is perfectly beguiling and quirky as Ann Darrow, the reluctant heroine, evolving from a gauche, country gal into an assertive woman risking her life to save Kong.

Ann and Kong’s rapport is central to this show’s success and director, Daniel Kramer, effectively shapes their connection into a genuinely poignant, heartfelt and credible relationship.

Hannaford’s versatile voice is pretty and warm singing the mellow, memorable Full Moon Lullaby to soothe the injured Kong, and the sweet, striking ballad, What’s It Gonna Take, but she is hilariously feisty leading the sassy chorus of Hollywood babes in Special FX.

Chris Ryan is an ideal foil for Hannaford as Jack Driscoll, the dashing sailor who romances her in the nostalgic, Fred and Ginger-style Fox Trot, and his pure tenor has passion and trepidation singing In the Face of Forever, about Jack’s fear of falling.

 Photo by Joe Calleri

Adam Lyon is bold and funny as rapacious Hollywood director, Carl Denham, and his voice is impressive in the rock anthem, Colossus.

Queenie Van De Zandt is thrilling singing Rise, a soaring tune that charts Kong’s climb up the Empire State.

The many elaborate chorus numbers (choreography, John O’Connell; acrobatics, Gavin Robins) including Hunting Season, a Busby Berkeley routine, are vibrant and entertaining.

However, songs must advance story and illuminate characters and, although Marius De Vries’ compositions are rousing and diverse, and individual songs by contemporary artists have a distinctive flavour, the repertoire lacks a consistent voice and unified vision.

The story (Craig Lucas) gallops at a giddy pace for 45 minutes until Kong appears, with one huge chorus scene chasing another, and lacklustre dialogue does not enhance characters and relationships.

The bold, modern design (Peter England), complex laser lighting (Peter Mumford) and projections (Frieder Weiss) create an intricate landscape but, with so much stage action and overwhelming visual stimulus, some scenes are overwrought, busy and dizzying.

While the production is a triumph of state-of-the-art technology, only time and public reaction will determine whether King Kong the musical can achieve the cult status of the classic 1933 movie upon which it is based.

By Kate Herbert

 Photo by Joe Calleri

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