I caught a matinee of the new Broadway musical King Kong last week and it was so bad I thought I was bugging. But then the reviews came out. The Observer said, “King Kong on Broadway is a $35 Million Crime Against Puppets.” I totally agreed. The New York Times called King Kong on Broadway “The Mess That Roared.” I hollered! The Independent called it “One of the most ludicrous musicals in recent history.” I was vindicated!
Granted, I’ve never been a big King Kong fan. The whole taking a powerful, beautiful Black creature from it’s natural habitat, putting it in chains, then exploiting it for a white man’s profit and acclaim somehow never quite sat well with me.
Then there was the whole woman being saved by the beast aspect. Ugh! I thought I would at least be able to stomach this version since a Black actress – the talented theatre vet Christiani Pitts – plays the heroine Ann Darrow for the first time in, like, ever. But this change is pointless because no matter who played Ann Darrow in this production no one would see her past the big bad gorilla on the stage.
The opening performance is where she sings “Queen of New York” and sets up her character’s plight which is… Surprise! To make it New York! As what you ask? As an Actress! And although it was the most entertaining and energized set of the show, part of me – and I suspect the rest of the audience – was waiting for the palatial puppet to appear. Once the gorilla finally got onstage ( it’s movements manipulated by puppeteers in black clothing hanging off of cables attached to Kong’s body but who you could still sorta see) all eyes were on King Kong. The poor girl could have stood on her head and no one would have noticed.
Bad reviews aside, this spectacle is sure to bring big bucks to Broadway. The day I went there were busloads of school kids and senior citizens excited to see it all for themselves. The producers of this show will be laughing all the way to the bank. Because although the songs and performances are forgettable, this “musical” is not aiming for the seasoned theater going Broadway musical culture crowd. This show is for people who don’t know or care that Kerrie Washington is in a new play called American Son right up the block or that Jeff Daniels will be playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird a few blocks over. They may be aware of the Cher Show, which is coming soon. But maybe not. They want to see a big puppet roar and appear to run (with some special effects) onstage. They don’t want to be enlightened or even entertained. They simply want to be scared and surprised. So be it!
I guess I should not have been too disappointed in the show. I didn’t expect it to be great I just didn’t expect it to be a total waste of my precious time. After all, one of the few perks of being a New Yorker and putting up with subways and tourists and gentrification is the ability to catch a great musical matinee when one’s means allow. I actually wanted to leave during intermission and I’ve never had that reaction to any show. Ever.
When I think Broadway musical I think classics like “Dreamgirls” (which was my first Broadway show as a kid starring the original Effie, Jenifer Holiday, thanks to my Aunt Fannie). A Chorus Line. West Side Story. And the more contemporary musicals like Hamilton. Wicked. Head Over Heels.
Somehow King Kong just does not fit the playbill, pun intended. You see, I always keep my playbills from all the shows I’ve seen. But I recently read excerpts from that popular Japanese book about clutter and it says if you look at something in your home and it does not give you joy, toss it. So it looks like it’s going to be bye bye King Kong!
Like a bad date, I’m going to pretend this never happened.