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Australian production company Global Creatures has announced that King Kong will open on Broadway in the Fall of 2018 in what looks on paper to be a substantial reworking of the 2013 Melbourne production. The new creative line up includes Jack Thorne, writer of the Olivier Award-winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Aussie singer, songwriter and cabaret performer Eddie Perfect who is contributing new songs. Choreographer and theatre-maker Drew McOnie, who recently rebooted Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical in the UK, comes on board as director.
“I’m thrilled that King Kong will be coming to Broadway next season led by Drew McOnie and Jack Thorne, who will bring a new dimension to the telling of Kong’s story,” said Global Creatures CEO Carmen Pavlovic. “Drew’s physical world will allow Kong to live in ways we never thought possible, propelled by Jack’s text and the score and songs written by Marius de Vries and Eddie Perfect.”
The original Melbourne production received decidedly mixed reviews with most crtics disliking Craig Lucas’s “clichéd” book, some lumpy dramaturgy and an eclectic score that placed 1930s period hits awkwardly alongside contemporary songs by the likes of Massive Attack. The majority reserved their praise for the one-tonne, six-metre tall animated silverback created by designer Sonny Tilders who went on to win a Helpmann Award for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement.
Lucas is one of those dropped in the new incarnation, along with the original director Daniel Kramer (now Artistic Director at London's English National Opera). According to Playbill, Global Creatures has also jettisoned a 2015 attempted reworking by the experienced musical theatre team of Marsha Norman, Jason Robert Brown and director Eric Schaeffer after Broadway producers proved reluctant to touch the musical in its original form.
“King Kong is a quintessential New York story and I’m proud to be involved in this historic production,” said producer Roy Furman. “Our team is creating a theatrical experience that we hope will astound audiences, while delighting them with its heartfelt storytelling."
McOnie, an Olivier Award winner for the London production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, is regarded as one of the British musical theatre scene’s hottest properties. However, despite receiving excellent notices for his choreography in the UK premiere of Strictly Ballroom The Musical, he wasn’t able to save it from a string of lukewarm reviews that echoed those of the Australian critics following its Sydney premiere.
“Originally, we were imagining a buffed and polished version of what we had in Australia, but something wasn’t clicking, like our puppet was in the middle of someone else’s show,” Pavlovic told the New York Times. “We came to a realization of how we could take the physicality of Kong and make it feel like the whole show was born of that idea – we were finding a form that would better tell King Kong’s story.”
Based on the novel of the original 1933 screenplay, in its stage adaptation King Kong is still billed as “a contemporary take on the classic tale of beauty and the beast”, though there are no specific details regarding the more controversial musical aspects of its previous incarnation. The bulk of the score is still that composed by Marius de Vries, Grammy nominated for his work on the films La La Land and Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and Romeo + Juliet, with additional songs by Perfect, composer and lyricist of the Broadway-bound Beetlejuice. Although his Shane Warne The Musical was generally admired, his work on Strictly Ballroom The Musical couldn’t save that show from a string of poor reviews.
The design team for Broadway will feature many of the original team including Peter England (Set Design), Roger Kirk (Costume Design), Peter Mumford (Lighting Design), Peter Hylenski (Sound Design) and Gavin Robins (Aerial and King Kong Movement Director). Casting, along with additional members of the creative team, and ticketing details are expected to be announced at a later date.