Viewers enticed to see “King Kong” for its special effects will find their desire rewarded by the extraordinary scenic and puppet design. There is also an appealing performance by Christiani Pitts acting and singing her way as the damsel in distress who wants to save Kong in the face of the mercenary attempt to display the captured jungle colossus. As for any thought that this is a worthy musical for its songs, lyrics and dance, forget it.
The spectacle is the attraction and what spectacle it is. A retinue of visible puppeteers operates the humongous King Kong, with Sonny Tilders as creature designer and Gavin Robins as Kong/aerial and movement director. The creature, given a few expressions such as sadness and curiosity, largely through effective eyes and head tilts, is impressive, especially at one point when he approaches the edge of the stage. (I think a possibility was missed here. How jolting it would be if an actor-shill was seated in the front row and Kong reached down and plucked him from the audience.)
Scenic and Production designer Peter England, lighting designer Peter Mumford, sound designer Peter Hylenski and video and projection imaging content contributed by Artists in Motion are among those who deserve special praise for the staging, as, of course, does director Drew McOnie.
The basic story is well known from the original movie, with this stage version written by Jack Thorne. The problem is that the conception of “King Kong” as a musical doesn’t jibe well with the tale of the trip to an island to find the unknown. There is flimsy excuse for singing and dancing along the way, even though Pitts gives her all with the lyrics she has been handed. Singing to the ape looks absurd no matter how sincere she is. The choreography (by director McOnie) seems silly and out of place whenever it crops up. The score composed and produced by Marius de Vries and songs by Eddie Perfect not only lack distinction but seem intrusive, although Pitts wins applause by her skill and enthusiasm. Eric William Morris as Carl Denham, the exploiter, does well enough in his role of using the ambitious Ann, who lands in New York looking for show business opportunity.
The spectacle of Kong stands as its own force for those who will find that enough reason to go. It is likely that youngsters will be enthralled by what they see. It is quite ridiculous to judge “King Kong” by the standard of what might be expected of a normal Broadway musical. The production dazzle is the name of the game when you brush away all the lesser ingredients and the misguided attempt to turn the saga into a musical aside. At the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 14, 2018.