Friday, August 2, 2013

King Kong the Musical

I love musicals. There is something fantastic about combining theatre with live music performance and telling a story in song. So what did I think when I was lucky enough to see King Kong the Musical in Melbourne? It was excellent! Here’s why.

King Kong is the kind of story that can be marred with cheesy performances, unrealistic puppets and tacky costumes; but the Melbourne musical was not so afflicted. The story itself is tried and tested - woman on the streets meets film maker, becomes actress, falls in love, is used as bait and captured by Kong, protects him when he is captured but ultimately is unable to save him – but to be honest it relies a little on the viewer subconsciously already knowing the story. Things sometimes don’t make complete sense (how did Jack and Ann fall in love so quickly? How much time had lapsed between them capturing Kong and Ann trying to free him? Was the whole film idea abandoned?) but as viewers we know the general gist and so we accept that these things are supposed to happen. It doesn’t completely hold together independently but there is definitely some richness added in this adaptation.

Leading lady Esther Hannaford is just stunning as Ann Darrow. She exudes not only style and charisma but is mighty strong and a comedic genius, stepping seamlessly between comic show tunes and falling in love, between roaring at a giant beast of an ape and treating him with kindness and warmth. Her performance was one of the things that carried the show and made it accessible.

Ann Darrow is a multifaceted hero in her own right, able to carry the story with warmth, wit and passion. I loved her ability to turn Jack’s proposal down when trying to decide what the right thing to do for Kong was. I also loved her bravery, both initially when captured and when trying to defend Kong. There was a great sense of strength in the character and a realistic vulnerability. In the end, it could be interpreted that she lived happily ever after with Jack, but I like to think that she was too grief stricken and he was too normal for the wonders opened in her eyes... and that she ran off and became Jane Goodall. Jack was a sap later on; he was okay in the beginning but then just a bit of a nothing character.

The King Kong puppet was breath-taking. This thing was enormous and expressive and masterfully manoeuvred by a team of puppeteers who were so talented I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Kong moved with grace and ferocity, and his facial expressions allowed both the audience and the actress to believe that he was a real creature who felt pain and connection.

Kong is wonderfully emotional but also portrayed as an animal, not a Beauty and the Beast type human-trapped-in-a-beast’s-body. I enjoyed that what Kong was teaching Ann about the world was not to do with love or a human connection. It was something other than that but in no way less important and it opened her eyes to things that other people couldn’t understand.

The songs themselves don’t really stick out for me; there are two I can actually remember; Full Moon Lullaby sung by Darrow to Kong on Scull Island and the show tune Hunting Season performed after his capture opening the second act. Many other musicals are remembered, loved and known for their musical numbers. I don’t think King Kong is going to be a Wicked or a Les Miserables in that regard and there was certainly no ‘Defying Gravity’ type song in the show. But the songs were still entertaining, carefully crafted and performed.

All up, a very enjoyable musical that was both entertaining and well executed!

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