King Kong (2013 musical)

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King Kong
King Kong (musical) logo.jpg
MusicMarius de Vries
LyricsMichael Mitnick (Melbourne version)
Craig Lucas (Melbourne version)
Eddie Perfect (Broadway version)
BookCraig Lucas (Melbourne version)
Jack Thorne (Broadway version)
BasisKing Kong
by James Creelman
Ruth Rose
Edgar Wallace
Merian C. Cooper
Productions2013 Melbourne
2018 Broadway

King Kong is a musical with music by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas and additional musical and lyrical contributions by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. It is based on the 1933 film of the same name. The original production was mounted in Australia in 2013. A re-worked Broadway production premiered in October 2018.[1]


The Australian production took five years of planning and over five months of rehearsals. Its director, Daniel Kramer, said that it took "three years of auditions and workshops" before performances began. He added, "It's tempting to focus on the spectacle of King Kong himself. But it is only through the humanity of the life around him – the people of New York City, the comic megalomania of filmmaker Carl Denham, the stubborn opposition of first mate Jack Driscoll, and the grace, beauty and power of our leading lady, Ann Darrow – that he truly takes life."[citation needed]

The musical, according to the 2013 press notes, "has gone back to the source – the novella of the original film by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace."[2]



An earlier version of the musical opened at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne, on 15 June 2013, following previews from 28 May 2013. It featured a score by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas, and additional music and lyrics by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. The production was directed by Daniel Kramer and choreographed by John O'Connell.

Originally booking through 28 July 2013, the musical extended its booking period three times,[3] closing on 16 February 2014, after an almost nine-month run. The show was produced by Global Creatures, which partnered with animatronics workshop The Creature Technology Company, who designed the six-metre animatronic silverback title character.[4]

Engineered, designed and built by Global Creature Technology in West Melbourne, Australia, the title role was the largest puppet ever created for the stage.[5] The 2013 press notes stated that Kong was "a highly sophisticated animatronic/marionette hybrid that will be controlled by the integration of hydraulics, automation and the manual manipulation from a team of puppeteer/aerialists. ... A group of 35 on-stage and off-stage puppeteers work to manipulate the large-scale puppet. Several puppeteers are positioned on swinging trapezes and others launch themselves as counterweights off the puppet's shoulders to raise Kong's massive arms as he runs and swipes at planes during the performance. ... [The musical features] a cast of 49 actors, singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers; a crew of 76; and arguably the most technologically advanced puppet in the world – a one-tonne, six-metre giant silverback".[2] King Kong also features a few other visual effects, including Kong's battle with a 40-foot snake puppet and the integration of a 90-foot video screen.[6]



The Broadway premiere of King Kong was originally scheduled to take place in 2014.[2] Gerry Ryan of Global Creatures told Australian Radio Station 3AW in January 2014: "I was in New York recently and went to the theatre, and so, they're getting ready – Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's closed there at the Foxwoods and we'll be opening on December 12 [2014]."[7] Producers soon announced delays.[8] By September 2014, Marsha Norman was engaged to rewrite the book.[9]

In 2015, Jason Robert Brown was added to the team[10] "to write songs for the characters. There's a whole lot of music that already exists for King Kong."[11] A staged presentation was held in February 2016. Directed by Eric Schaeffer, the cast included Robert Creighton (Benny), Lora Lee Gayer (Ann Darrow), Marc Kudisch (Carl Denham) and Euan Morton (Jack Driscol).[12][13]

The musical opened at the Broadway Theatre[14] for previews on October 5, 2018, with the official opening on November 8.[15] The creative team includes book writer Jack Thorne, director-choreographer Drew McOnie, and Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect, who replaced the former creatives. The play grossed just over $1 million during its opening week.[16][17] On February 7, 2019, the show celebrated its 100th performance.[18] The production will close on August 18, 2019, having 29 previews and 324 regular performances.[19]


Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment will bring the show to Japan in 2021.[20]


This synopsis describes the 2018 production on Broadway.

Act I[edit]

Ann Darrow moves to New York City intending to become an actress. She auditions for a number of roles, but is repeatedly turned down. She meets director Carl Denham in a diner, and he offers her a role as leading lady in a movie he is producing. Denham avoids revealing any details about the production, aside from the fact that the filming location is accessible only by boat, but promises Ann that if she takes the job, he'll make her a star. Ann agrees, and the two set off on the steamship the S.S. Wander, helmed by Captain Englehorn. Denham tells Ann that the ship is loaded with gas bombs of his own creation, and that they will only be used in case of a real emergency.

Despite Englehorn's repeated questions as to where they were going, Denham avoids naming a destination. Eventually Englehorn pulls a gun on Denham and demands that he explain why they're going to Skull Island, threatening to throw him overboard and make him find the island alone. Ann threatens to blow the ship up using the gas bombs if they don't let Denham go. Englehorn backs down.

The S.S. Wander arrives at Skull Island, and the crew make landfall. When Ann climbs up into some vines for a shot, she is taken by Kong, who carries her off to a high cliff overlooking the forest. Denham suggests that he and the rest of the crew leave the island and just let Ann fend for herself, but inspired by the idea that Kong would be a huge tourist attraction back in New York, he changes his mind and leads the crew to save Ann.

Meanwhile, Ann wakes up to face Kong in his cave. At first she is frightened by the beast, but after Kong protects her when she is almost attacked by a giant snake the two form a bond. While Kong falls asleep, Ann, realizing that she's still in danger, runs off down back into the jungle. On awakening, Kong gives chase. Ann encounters Denham who encourages her to scream for Kong, which draws Kong right to where the rest of the ship's crew is waiting, gas bombs at the ready. Kong is gassed and captured.

Act II[edit]

Back in New York, Denham advertises a show in which he intends to present a now captive Kong to audiences. During rehearsals Ann confronts Denham about his capture of Kong. Denham threatens to blackball her if she does not participate in the production. Ann visits Kong in captivity and the two start to rekindle their friendship. During the opening performance, Ann notices that Kong's condition has deteriorated. She refuses to scream as required by the script, and instead shouts for Kong to fight back. When she is grabbed and dragged offstage, she does scream, which prompts Kong to break his shackles and escape. Kong rampages through the city in an attempt to find Ann, when he does, she climbs up onto his back.

The army arrive and open fire on Kong, who flees to the half-completed Empire State Building and starts climbing it, Ann still clinging to his back. Back at the theater, Denham is left alone, the stage in shambles. On top of the Empire State Building, Ann notices that Kong is slowly dying and pleads with him to stay with her. Army planes arrive to shoot Kong down. Kong destroys many of them, but eventually falls off of the Empire State Building, plummeting to his death. Ann grieves over the loss of Kong and soliloquises on how Kong was "a wonder", rather than a monster or an attraction to be displayed.

Characters and original cast[edit]

Character Melbourne (2013) Reading (2016) Workshop (2017) Broadway (2018)
Ann Darrow Esther Hannaford Lora Lee Gayer Eva Noblezada Christiani Pitts
Carl Denham Adam Lyon Marc Kudisch Eric William Morris
Lumpy N/A Tom Nelis Erik Lochtefeld
The Bartender N/A Bradley Dean Harley Jay
Captain Englehorn Richard Piper N/A Akron Watson Rory Donovan
Jack Driscoll Chris Ryan Euan Morton N/A
Cassandra Queenie van de Zandt N/A
Benny N/A Robert Creighton N/A
Young Jack N/A Cole Edelstein N/A
Voice of Kong N/A Benny Elledge Harley Durst Jon Hoche
King Kong N/A Sam Foster N/A

Musical numbers[edit]

Original Melbourne production (2013)[edit]

Original Broadway production (2018)[edit]


King Kong opened on 15 June 2013 to mixed reviews. The majority of critics lauded the visuals and the cast, but reacted negatively to the music, book and lyrics. Aussie Theatre wrote, "It's spectacular. Visually and technically, this is theatre that we haven't seen before", but went on to say, "The story isn't there. There's a plot based on assuming the audience know King Kong's film story, but it's filled with illogical leaps, clunky dialogue and the melodrama of unearned emotion. It feels like it was written around the spectacle." In terms of the score, it wrote, "The music is forgettable. It's not boring, but it doesn't move the story, show character or add much more than a beat for the spectacle that it's supporting", claiming that "the most successful number is Ann's lullaby to Kong on Skull Island."[21]

Australian Stage reviewed the show similarly, writing "The storyline does suffer from a lack of character development and an over-use of musical numbers that are sometimes more razzle-dazzle than relevant to the actual story." It also reacted negatively to the original character Cassandra, writing "...adding [her] was another unnecessary idea. With little to do and dressed in a costume that seemed more relevant to Wicked, one was left bewildered by her presence, although Queenie van de Zandt produced another strong performance in the role."[22] In a 3 1/2 star review, The Sydney Morning Herald believed the show to "[impress] on many levels", adding, "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."[23]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Melbourne production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2013 Helpmann Awards[24] Best New Australian Work Nominated
Best Female Actor in a Musical Esther Hannaford Nominated
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical Chris Ryan Nominated
Best Original Score Marius de Vries (original music), Michael Mitnick and Richard Thomas (additional lyrics), featuring Songs and Original Compositions by 3D, Guy Garvey, Sarah McLachlan, Justice and The Avalanches Nominated
Best Costume Design Roger Kirk Won
Best Scenic Design Peter England Won
Best Lighting Design Peter Mumford Won
Best Sound Design Peter Hylenski Won
Outstanding Theatrical Achievement * Won
  • The award for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement was created by the Industry Awards Panel and Helpmann Awards Administration Committee for the "design, creation and operation of King Kong – the creature." The panel and administration felt that the "ground breaking Australian creation, the first of its kind in the world, was worthy of individual recognition.”[25]

Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
Outer Critics Circle Awards[26] Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical) Peter Mumford Nominated
Outstanding Projection Design (Play or Musical) Peter England Won
Outstanding Sound Design (Play or Musical) Peter Hylenski Won
Drama League Awards[27] Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Puppet Design Sonny Tilders Won
Outstanding Projection Design Peter England Won
Tony Awards Best Scenic Design of a Musical Peter England Nominated
Best Lighting Design of a Musical Peter Mumford Nominated
Best Sound Design of a Musical Peter Hylenski Nominated
Special Tony Award Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company Won


  1. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "King Kong Sets Broadway Opening Night",, November 8, 2017
  2. ^ a b c Hetrick, Adam. " King Kong Musical May Conquer Broadway Next", 26 June 2013
  3. ^ " King Kong Musical Extends Melbourne Run to August"
  4. ^ "Homepage".
  5. ^ "Bringing King Kong to life". The Age. Melbourne.
  6. ^ Miller, Mark J. "Effects Play Lead Role on Broadway in KING KONG",, 20 March 2019
  7. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Megamusical 'King Kong' Stalks Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre",, 28 January 2014
  8. ^ Stevens, Beth. "Monster Musical King Kong Delays Its Stomp to Broadway",, March 6, 2014
  9. ^ Hetrick, Adam. " King Kong Revamped for U.S. Premiere as Original Creative Team Departs",, September 5, 2014
  10. ^ Lloyd Webber, Imogen. " Monstrous King Kong Musical Taps Bridges of Madison County's Jason Robert Brown & Marsha Norman",, September 17, 2015
  11. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Exclusive: Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman Talk Humanizing 'King Kong' for Broadway",, December 15, 2015
  12. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "New York-Aimed 'King Kong' Gets High Profile Presentation With Broadway Players,, February 19, 2016
  13. ^ Lloyd Webber, Imogen. "Marc Kudisch, Robert Creighton & More Tapped for Workshop of Revamped King Kong Musical",, February 19, 2016
  14. ^ Lefkowitz, Andy. "King Kong Musical Will Stomp onto Broadway in 2018",, May 18, 2017
  15. ^ Evans, Greg. "Broadway's ‘King Kong' Sets Opening Date",, November 8, 2017
  16. ^ "Broadway Grosses: King Kong Has Its Most Mammoth Week Yet". November 19, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  17. ^ " 'King Kong 'Musical Will Conquer Broadway in 2018; Harry Potter Scribe Joins Creative Team", Playbill, May 17, 2017
  18. ^ Skethway, Nathan. " King Kong Celebrates 100 Performances on Broadway", Playbill, February 7 2019
  19. ^ Hetrick, Adam (June 25, 2019). "King Kong Musical Sets Closing Date on Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  20. ^ Hershberg, Marc. " 'King Kong' to Go on Rampage at Japanese Resort", Forbes, February 5 2019
  21. ^ Oh King Kong! You gorgeous, sexy, magnificent beast
  22. ^ King Kong | Global Creatures
  23. ^ King Kong
  24. ^ Helpmann Awards: Winners
  25. ^ Bennett, Sally (24 June 2013). "King Kong gatecrashes Helpmann Awards, picking up eight nominations and special 'outstanding achievement' award". Herald Sun. Herald and Weekly Times (News Corp Australia). Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  26. ^ Lefkowitz, Andy (2019-04-23). "Hadestown, Tootsie & Oklahoma! Lead 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations". Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  27. ^ Lefkowitz, Andy (2019-04-17). "Nominations Announced for 85th Annual Drama League Awards". Retrieved 2019-04-17.

External links[edit]