The Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway at 53rd St.
Tuesday - Saturday through April 14, $69 - $175
It isn’t beauty that kills the beast in the Broadway bust King Kong; it’s the music, lyrics, and story that lack the charm to soothe this savage breast, to paraphrase William Congreve. I don’t revel in taking yet more shots at the already brutally attacked musical, but I have little choice than to fire more artillery in the direction of the Broadway Theatre, where this travesty opened on November 8. King Kong himself, the eighth wonder of the world, is spectacular; designed by Sonny Tilders and Roger Kirk, lit by Peter Mumford, voiced by Jon Hoche, and operated by ten men and women, the one-ton, twenty-foot-high mechanical creature is just about everything you’d want from the beast. Unfortunately, the rest of the show is a hot mess. The songs by Marius de Vries and Eddie Perfect lack any kind of nuance (sample lyric: “Another arrow shoots Ann Darrow through the chest / But every ‘no’ only brings me closer to ‘yes’ / New York socked me with a body shot / But I’m not staying down / I’ll fight like hell / So ring that bell / Look who’s coming out swinging in the opening round.”) The direction and choreography by Drew McOnie is often head-scratchingly absurd, with several ensemble pieces seemingly there just to take up time and space. And Jack Thorne’s book puts too much of the focus on the Darrow character, resulting in yet another tired musical about a poor country girl desperate to make it big on the Great White Way.
Just as Darrow (Christiani Pitts) is about to give up on her dream, she is discovered by filmmaker Carl Denham (Eric William Morris), who whisks her off on an adventure on board the SS Wanderer, accompanied by his right-hand man, Lumpy (Erik Lochtefeld). Captain Englehorn (Rory Donovan) wants to know where they’re going, but Denham is not about to say — until Skull Island appears before them. There they encounter King Kong, who falls for Darrow before being captured and brought to New York City, where things don’t go too well for him, or for us. The beast itself is breathtaking, especially when Peter England’s projections make it look like Kong is running through the jungle or the streets of the city and when he makes his way to the front of the stage, carefully scanning the audience while asserting his strength and power. But the watered-down version of the story and too many stultifying scenes — you might just get seasick during a stormy voyage, and what’s with those green things climbing through green laser beams? — zap all the energy out of this classic tale. “What an ugly beast the ape, and how like us,” Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said in the first century BCE. In King Kong, virtually the only thing that isn’t ugly is the beast.