King Kong (Regent Theatre, Melbourne)

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What do the critics think of King Kong? We review the reviews.
[box]Show times: Tue 7pm; Wed 1pm & 8pm; Thu-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 3pm Book tickets [/box]

The low-down

Dubbed ‘The Music Theatre Event’, King Kong arrived in Melbourne with the weight of expectations on his almighty shoulders. The story follows Ann Darrow and filmmaker Carl Denham from the bustling streets of 1933 New York to the remote Skull Island, where they discover a creature more magnificent and terrifying than they could have imagined. The show features an eclectic score by Sarah McLachlan, the Avalanches, Justice, and 3D from Massive Attack, as well as what might be the world’s most impressive puppet.

Our verdict

An all-out spectacle, with fantastic lighting, sound, stagecraft, singing, costumes and dancing. Oh, and a six-metre gorilla that’s probably the coolest thing you will ever see on stage. READ OUR REVIEW

What the other critics say

The monkey is spectacular – nobody has tried to deny that. But apart from the star, and all the onstage magic surrounding him, the critics don’t agree on much with this one. A lot think the book and score are a few rewrites away from working as well as they could, which is unsurprising, given that the score has contributions from at least eight different composers. When it comes to the cast, it’s clear that Esther Hannaford is radiant, and Queenie van de Zandt is criminally underutilised as the soothsayer/bird woman Cassandra. Meanwhile, a few of them got a little bit antsy about having their superlatives about the magnificence of the puppet taken out of context, and splashed all over publicity material. Consensus rating: 6/10
“The many elaborate chorus numbers (choreography, John O’Connell; acrobatics, Gavin Robins) including Hunting Season, a Busby Berkeley routine, are vibrant and entertaining. However, songs must advance story and illuminate characters and, although Marius De Vries’ compositions are rousing and diverse, and individual songs by contemporary artists have a distinctive flavour, the repertoire lacks a consistent voice and unified vision.” Kate Herbert, Herald Sun
“King Kong impresses on many levels. If it falls short, it’s because our expectations are so sky high. As such, it is a showcase for a technology’s potential and also its limitations. It is a novel, intermittently powerful but synthetic spectacle that seeks to be more. The waves of choral amens in a climax that doubles as a kind of apotheosis for Kong only serves to give the great ape a little bit further to fall.” Jason Blake, Sydney Morning Herald
“It’s a show that will leave a colossal footprint. You can taste the future in this unique and visionary theatrical event, and it’s mind-blowing…the real wonder is the ingenious physical realism, and the sheer agility and expressiveness of the puppetry…The music is especially adventurous…a viable and intriguing experiment. Two main problems stand out: the disjointed transitions from stage action to song, and the fact that some numbers sound pretty without doing hard yards dramatically. A somewhat flimsy book is the show’s weakest link.” Cameron Woodhead, The Age
“King Kong is not a production led and carried forward by its songs, a la Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! or Stephen Sondheim’s music-theatre pieces. Nor is it a show where the musical content dictates the action. King Kong contains elements of both, but in here everything is turbo-charged by breathtaking imagery of such power that the spectacle itself becomes the main game.
Still, Hannaford led a strong cast that included Adam Lyon, veteran artist Richard Piper, Chris Ryan and Queenie Van De Zant. More than 20 support cast made up the energised ensemble.” Peter Burch, The Australian
“Admittedly, once Kong reaches the stage, you can’t think of much else. Really this is a puppet like no other. The sheer scale of him is astonishing enough, but the expression and emotion his operators manage to impart, scurrying across the stage and the beast in a dance to rival the most complicated chorus number, is incredible. A breathtaking scene in which the giant gorilla does battle with an equally gargantuan serpent is unlike anything I’ve seen on a stage before. But Daniel Kramer’s production falters when the star attraction is absent from the stage.” Vicky Frost, The Guardian
“At one point ‑ the quiet eye of the ape’s stormy rampage through New York ‑ Kong leans out over the audience, tasting the air. Even under such close scrutiny the sense of some secret, magic, animal existence is sustained, even amplified. But while the main attraction, Kong, is a brilliant success, the rest of the show is at best still in development.” Andrew Fuhrmann, Time Out


The book and score don’t quite live up to the spectacle. But a spectacle nonetheless.

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