Left – Kong and Esther Hannaford. Photo – Belinda Strodder
After five years of planning, over five months of rehearsals and with a cast of 49 actors, singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers, along with a crew of over 70, and of course a six-metre tall leading man, King Kong finally had its world premiere in Melbourne.
The creature, billed as the eighth wonder of the world, exploded onto the Regent stage in one of the most ambitious productions ever attempted. One could easily have felt that there was every possibility that a grand musical production of the classic 30s story by Merian C Cooper was heading for disaster. Fortunately, the huge company of dedicated professionals managed to create something that was epic and operatic in scale, remaining largely true to the original.
The storyline does suffer from a lack of character development and an over-use of musical numbers that are sometimes more razzle-dazzle than relevant to the actual story. The makeover fantasy on the boat being a prime example of a musical number that reminded one of an early Madonna video – out of place and unnecessary.
And adding the character of Cassandra was another unnecessary idea. With little to do and dressed in a costume that seemed more relevant to Wicked, one was left bewildered by her presence, although Queenie Van De Zandt produced another strong performance in the role.
Blending classic songs from the 20s and 30s with contemporary artists such as Massive Attack and Sarah McLachlan was a bold move. In a musical this can create problems, as songs have not been originally written for this storyline. However Rise and the haunting Full Moon Lullaby were two stand-outs.
The Ziegfeld Follies-style opening numbers were great, for establishing the time period and location, but this story and treatment of Kong is a little more darker than that.
However, having stated all this, the moment that Kong finally made an appearance, thundering and overwhelming, one could not but be amazed at the technoligical accomplishment that Global Creatures has realised in the magnificant beast.
Operated by a team of puppeteers, credited as The King's Men, Kong shows the reason why the audience is there. To see his story.
Even though the supporting ropes and cables were clearly visible (which I am sure will be improved upon in any future incarnation), once you focused on the creatures face and extraordinary range of expressions, it was difficult not to be drawn into the classic tale of a beast with an almost child-like soul and tenderness.
Creature designer Sonny Tilders and his team have a great deal to be proud of with this achievement.
The stage design by Peter England and the use of a 27 metre-wide LED screen was suitably amazing and impressive. Although the let-down was the climactic climb of the Empire State Building, which was not clearly realised (and identifiable) in the design on stage. Roger Kirk's costumes and Peter Mumford's lighting design were beautifully integrated though.
The cast have worked long and hard and it is difficult to fault performances, as they are all suitably talented. Leading lady Esther Hannaford as the fiesty Ann Darrow easily came off best. Mention of the lack of enough character development has already been made.
Director Daniel Kramer took on a huge undertaking with this gig, and has tried with varying levels of success to make the many elements of this show come together as a whole.
Technically the show is brilliant, and for some out there, that will be sufficient. Is this musical theatre? Not as we have known it. Perhaps this story does not even need to have a song score. Possibly the whole show would work better as an arena spectacular (as have previous Global Creatures' hits). The show, the production, will no doubt continue to be worked on and developed.
At any rate, King Kong is an achievement of note. A grand vision that succeeds on some levels – just not all.
Global Creatures presents
Director Daniel Kramer
Venue: The Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne
Dates: from 15 June 2013
Tickets: $60 – $129
Bookings: 1300 111 011 | www.ticketmaster.com.au