Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Ever since the original 1933 movie, Kong has reigned supreme over New York City. We have seen him grow over the years through many renditions of the monster. Going from the classic 1933 original to fighting Godzilla in 1962 to fighting a robot clone of himself to countless remakes and an upcoming rematch of the century with Godzilla in 2020. Now, King Kong: Alive On Broadway takes the classic story of beauty and the beast and turns it into a live musical. Is the show good or does this show fall off the Empire State building?
If you have seen the 1933 movie or any of the remakes, then you already know the story by now. Starving actress, Ann Darrow, is hired by director, Carl Denham, to take part on a voyage to Skull Island for a yet to be made movie. On the voyage, she meets and falls in love with John Driscoll (Jack Driscoll in the 2005 remake) until they make it to the island. On Skull Island, they meet hostile natives that use Ann as a sacrifice to Kong. Kong falls in love with Ann and his love for her becomes Kong's ultimate downfall. While the show does kind of follow the story, there were some details that I felt were left out or I found questionable.
One of the problems I had was how did Carl know that Skull Island exists? Does he have a map? No. Does he have satellite pictures of the island? Nada. How does he know that the giant ape is called Kong? I don't know since there are no natives in the show worshiping him or calling his name. So he couldn't have known that. How does he know? He just knows. That's it. The show never explains how Carl knows about Skull Island's existence or any other details. It was as if the information was all given on the fly without some sort of explanation. Perhaps an extra prop like a journal would have been a good idea for Carl to have so it tells me and the audience that this is how the characters know all of this.
Another key element to the story is the love triangle between Ann, Kong, and Driscoll. In the story, Kong and Driscoll are rivaling for Ann's love. However, Driscoll is replaced by a very minor character whose nickname is Lumpy. This character does not affect the story at all other than to tell Ann that she reminds him of his daughter. It gives a little insight to Lumpy's character, but it doesn't affect the Ann what-so-ever in the show. I would've thought that perhaps Ann is Lumpy's lost daughter, but nope that doesn't seem to be the case. I find out that his daughter died at the age of 12 from small pox just to add unnecessary drama, which makes Lumpy an absolutely useless character. The difference between Driscoll and Lumpy is that Driscoll's love for Ann is his motivator in wanting to save Ann from Kong. Lumpy does not have much motivation nor does he even try to convince anybody why they should save Ann from Kong. Perhaps if the story revealed that Ann was Lumpy's daughter then it would give his character the needed motivation as to why he would want to save her. This is why the love triangle is so important to the story. Without it, the characters don't really have any motivation to save Ann. Which brings me to my next point.
The story was changed to have Ann Darrow (played by Christiani Pitts) as a strong female character instead of a damsel in distress. While I don't mind having strong female characters, the way this was done in the show does not work very well. Now let's compare this to Naomi Watts's version of the character in the 2005 remake. While even though Ann was a damsel in distress character, there was one instance where she had to be brave. It was the scene where Anne had to entertain Kong out of fear of being killed by the ape. When she slips and falls, this entertains Kong greatly to where he would pick her back up on her feet just to make her fall again. Annoyed and at her emotional limit, she slaps Kong's hand away and yells at him that enough was enough. This is a good example of how I think a strong female character should be done. Naomi Watts's character was believable because she was fearing for her life while at the same time she had to stand up for herself. Going back to the Ann character in the musical, she comes off as arrogant. Ann sort of mocks every situation because she's "a strong woman" and the show would make sure that it's nailed into your brain. This makes the whole character sort of a joke and unlikable.
Despite my dislike for the show's story and characters, Kong is the real star of the show. The puppet is a life size animatronic/marionette hybrid that stands 19 and a half feet tall. A true spectacle to experience that brings a classic movie monster to life on stage with on-stage puppeteers controlling Kong's arms and legs and off stage puppeteers to control Kong's face and roars. The design for Kong even reminds me of the 2005 version with a hint of the original 1933 film with the grey color Kong has. All of the greatest moments are when Kong is on stage. Every moment with Kong is never a dull moment from his expressions to his fights to his chest pounding finale. One of the greatest moments is when Kong walks up to the audience and the puppeteers would have him looking around, stretching his arm out like he's reaching to grab one of the audience members, and standing up to roar at the crowd. The interaction between the puppet and the audience makes it feel like you're part of the show.
I have read reviews saying the puppeteers on stage were distracting or makes Kong unrealistic, but this is a live performance and not a movie. This is the only thing where the movie and the show should be detracting from each other. If you want Kong to be more realistic, then go watch the 2005 movie. Otherwise I say this is forgivable. Without the puppeteers, Kong wouldn't look as great on stage.
What truly brings the show to life are the stage sets and a movie screen that acts as a backdrop. Every scene from beginning to end really made me feel like I am really at these places. Especially during the scene when the characters were on the S.S. Wanderer it really felt like that I was on the ship. The whole set and backdrop was very animated. Even when Kong is running through the jungle or through New York City it always felt that Kong is on the move.
The one thing that every Broadway show must have are songs that are memorable. The Phantom Of The Opera has songs like "Angel Of Music" or "The Music Of The Night". Wicked has "Defying Gravity" and Mamma Mia! has basically a whole album of songs from the band, ABBA. Every Broadway show always has at least a couple songs that are memorable.
When it comes to King Kong: Alive On Broadway!, the songs fall short and forgettable. That's not a good sign if I can't even remember one song. Not to say the music is bad. The actors singing were doing their best to sing these songs, but none really stick out. I enjoyed the music that made the atmosphere for the scenes if that counts. With atmospheric music, it made tensions high in certain scenarios like the scene with Kong fighting the giant cobra or when Kong was running through the jungle or New York City or when Kong makes his last stand on the Empire State building. That type of music was sort of enjoyable to listen to. So the orchestra was good, but the songs that go with it I hardly remember.
King Kong: Alive On Broadway! is probably one of the lesser shows to have come out. Even though the story and music fall short, Kong is the real star of the show and just seeing him come to life on stage is a sight to behold. The stage sets are really well made and they did a really good job making each scene feel like you're part of it all.
Thank you for joining me. Did this make you want to see it or not want to see it? If you have seen it already, was there anything that you agree or disagree with my review? Let me know in the comments in the comments section of your thoughts on my review. Make sure to follow me on my Facebook page and Twitter to stay up to date for more news, reviews, and discussions.