King Kong @ Regent Theatre, Melbourne (Sat 5 Oct 2013)
In my younger years, I was dragged along to every Gilbert and Sullivan production that played in Brisbane. Multiple productions of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance were seen through my childhood, as were touring productions of Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and any other Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that rolled into town. I had the amazing pleasure of seeing Cats and A Chorus Line on Broadway too. I was also a bit of a thespian in my early days, and acted in a few productions at The Arts Theatre in Brisbane in the early 80’s. Why am I going on about all that you may ask? I guess I’m trying to get across that I know a bit about Theatre. Not a lot- but enough to know what’s good, and what really isn’t. Unfortunately, King Kong definitely leans toward the latter.
I had high hopes for King Kong. Apart from the fact that every tram and billboard has had it plastered all over Melbourne for the better part of a year, there was also the fact that Guy Garvey of Elbow was one of the principal songwriters for the production, along with Sarah McLachlan, Robert Del Naja (3D from Massive Attack), Justice, and The Avalanches.
Musically the production was just plain odd. As individual musical pieces, there were some great moments, although none of it gelled at all. Of the pieces that were re-worked from the original, they sounded like they could have come directly from an Andrew Lloyd Webber production- and at times I actually found myself humming Jesus Christ Superstar songs.
The lighting design was exceptional, with very little in the way of physical sets. Most scenes were depicted using lights, and it was particularly well done when depicting distance and time traveled between the boat and Skull Island.
Unfortunately the acting by the lead cast was one of the main drawbacks of the production. The characters of Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll were overacted in the extreme, although Esther Hannaford was excellent in the role of Ann Darrow. There was little character development at all, to the point that the role of Cassandra seemed completely unnecessary and we were left scratching our heads as to what her role was meant to represent. She just seemed to pop up at odd times to sing a (usually quite long) song about something insignificant and then trot away. Having said that, the ‘role’ of Kong was superb. The realism of the character was sensational, even with the 35 or so puppeteers in plain sight. Its facial expressions were amazing and there were times when you’d actually forget you were in a theatre. The bulk of the show’s hype revolved around the size and cost of the character of King Kong- it does seem that this was where most of the production energy was placed and that other major factors (such as acting) were left on the sidelines. At this point I should probably mention that the tens of supporting dancers were incredible.
At around 2.5 hours, the show was also a little on the lengthy side.
In short, King Kong was a pastiche of a great many musicals, with sub-standard acting and direction. Although it obviously had its moments of glory, I wasn’t up to the standard that I was expecting. To be fair, I was expecting a lot, and had I gone in with zero expectations, the above missive may well have been more positive.
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