“Yeah, I’m a little sick, so they moved me,” said avid theater-goer Craig, or maybe it was Greg, when I buttonholed him on the street outside the Broadway Theatre, which is on Broadway, in New York City, where we had just witnessed the spectacle of the King Kong show, a singing and dancing stage reinterpretation of the original tragedy of the giant ape who has died at the World Trade Center, and at West 34th Street and 5th Avenue, and now, maybe, on Broadway. I was talking to Greg or Craig because, as I told him when I approached, I spotted him, a lone figure, sporting a highly visible scarf, sitting in the sparsely filled box seats during the performance—sparsely filled enough that they could be a quarantine zone, apparently. When I saw him outside talking with another patron, I had to hear what he thought about the show. “Are you with the production?” asked Craig or Greg, as he eyed me suspiciously. I assured him I was not and I was simply and genuinely interested in his thoughts, because I had a feeling he’d have a solid and informed opinion, and I was just a rube from Baltimore who came up to witness the spectacle of a 20-foot-tall partially robotic ape puppet on a Broadway stage. Who else comes to Broadway?
I don’t have verbatim quotes from Greg or Craig because without thinking, after he said he was sick, I stuck out my hand to introduce myself and immediately became preoccupied with the realization that by clasping the hand of its host, I had invited Pestilence into my life. Basically, though, Craig or Greg said he thought the production was “fair,” but the music wasn’t up to much, and as sick as he was, the reason he was there was because he heard the show—which is billed as being a Limited Engagement—had very bad reviews and he was curious about it and wanted to support it, so he paid around a hundred bucks for a seat. A Patron of the Arts! He also told me there was gonna be a To Kill A Mockingbird play, starring Jeff Daniels from Dumb & Dumber To, and HBO’s The Newsroom, and until I did a little research I assumed this was going to be a musical, because I just saw a Broadway Musical, whew.
The gent Greg or Craig was talking to climbed into a car. “The whole second act needs to be fixed,” he shouted, and I hollered back in agreeance, saying that the opening song after intermission (“It’s a Man”), wasn’t so hot. But music wasn’t the reason I was there, I was there because I have a friend, Kevin, who is a King Kong fanatic, and when I heard about this show, I knew we had to see it. King Kong! Twenty-foot-tall Kong! Here’s his review:
I don’t have the deep-Kong background of my friend Kevin, but here’s my preliminary review based on the feedback I supplied to the survey I took after the show.
How likely am I to recommend? I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who wants to see a 20-foot tall ape trundling around on a stage, rising up, sailing around, fighting a giant snake and stuff, and furthermore, if you have the dough, get seats front and center, because that’s the best spot to see the action. So, as someone who rarely attends shows on Broadway, I’m telling you the backdrop projections are wonderfully impressionist, really nice works of digital art, the moving set construction is fascinating (for someone who never goes to Broadway shows), and there are some impressive technical surprises in the scenes that garnered applause from the crowd.
Again, for me, as far as a recommend, it’s all about the “Spectacular King Kong puppet,” and then the sets and stuff, but the next item I would mention is the performance of Christiani Pitts, who plays Anne Darrow, the object of Kong’s affection, because she carried the human part of the show with her voice and personality. The guy who played Carl Denham, the moviemaker who ends up being an animal exploiter, got, to me, confusingly, a big pop from the crowd as he appeared, and I think maybe that was part of the performance, some off-stage sound. Is that a shitty thing to say? Also, from my seat in the Mezzanine, he sorta looked like that actor Jason Segel, so for part of the play I was irrationally irritated I wasn’t seeing Jason Segel for my $119 admission.
I was irritated about no Jason Segel even after I bought two drinks at the theater’s bar, for like $40, that’s how irritated I was. OK, one of the drinks was a double, because when I asked for a Jack & Coke, the bartender said “Single or double?” so I said “Thank you for asking, make it a double,” and then I overtipped because of his kind and considerate question, but then I was like “Holy crap, I just paid $50 for two drinks. OK, one was a double.”
When I went back at halftime and ordered another Jack & Coke, I had a different bartender who asked me “Single, double, or triple?” which is a pretty sharp marketing move, just saying. I guess that might be a standard “Theater Bar at the Musical” joke? Has anyone written a play called Theater Bar at a Musical? Also I should note that $10 out of my bar tab was for cups, which somehow gets you a credit for the cup when you go back for another beverage. There’s definitely a facial expression or two they need to add to the HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE thing you get with your receipt.
Something I was wondering about was how this show was going to handle the racist element of the 1933 film, but this production simply places Kong on a mysterious island, and they go grab the ape so they can put him on stage and cash in. There are scenes when Kong runs, and they are handled with lighting effects and surrealistic action on the backdrop, and it’s pretty cool.
The dancing was also impressive and entertaining, and it so happened the hotel we stayed at had a doorman who practiced Parkour while he stood around in front of the hotel, so we were sort of coincidentally ready to witness acrobatics.
The music, though, it’s sort of the stuff you hear in your head when you think of “show tunes,” but none of it was really catchy. I think the audience liked the show, but other than the overworked “Beauty killed the Beast” line, there really isn’t a resonant moral to the story, and it just made me feel bad about this fantastic simian who was lonely on an island and ends up getting kidnapped, enslaved, and murdered. My existing knowledge of the tale of Kong may have influenced my reaction to the ape-puppet’s face, but there’s a twinkle of life in its eyes and the work of the 14 people controlling the puppet and imparting the appearance of life is impressive and touching. It made me think of he movie Being John Malkovich, in terms of thinking puppetry is ridiculous and then getting sucked in to watching this thing move around the stage and feeling sorry for it and liking it more than people.