King Kong Cometh

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I’m the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of musicals. I do, however, have a penchant for blockbuster and the odd giant raging ape.

So when I read about King Kong making its roaring debut in Melbourne this week, I went along to a preview screening see what all the monkey business was about.

But first, some background. King Kong has been five years in the making. The beast was constructed by Global Creatures (the local whiz kids behind Walking with Dinosaurs and War Horse, among others.) The original score by longtime Baz Luhrmann collaborator Marius de Vries featuring Massive Attack, Sarah McLachlan, Justice, Elbow and The Avalanches.

The tale, set in The Depression, sees ruthless documentary filmmaker Carl Denham (Adam Lyon) luring blonde, beautiful but down-on-her-luck Ann Darrow (Esther Hannaford) to the mysterious Skull Island, where he uses her as bait to capture Kong. Back in NYC Kong is put on display, gets really mad and escapes, smashing lots of things.

The production, being shown at the suitably austere Regent Theatre, opens with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a Broadway musical. It’s fun and the music is fantastic, swinging between show tunes and grinding electronica. Esther Hannaford is outstanding as Ann, with a powerful voice and empathy with Kong that resonates more than her relationship with the hunky Jack Driscoll (Chris Ryan). The constantly moving digital background adds to the spectacle.

Kong isn’t without its faults. The first act drags and takes too long to reach the monkey, and some of the actor’s US accents are grating.

But the undoubted star of the show is Kong. Over six metres tall and oozing equal parts rage, compassion and melancholy, you soon forget Kong is a giant puppet and accept him as a character. From running to fighting giant snakes to climbing the Empire State Building, Kong barely has time to stop for breath and you just want to see more of the big bastard. For the monkey along, Kong is worth it.

King King The Musical opens June 15 at The Regent Theatre.
For more info and tickets visit kingkongliveonstage.com.

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