**Spoilers ahead for the Broadway production of King Kong.
Fall Visual Arts TRaC had the opportunity to see King Kong, and three of Nate’s TRaCstars– Frida Jackson, Angie R. Canegitta, and Mollie Smith–wrote responses to the unique Broadway production.
King Kong, Broadway’s newest musical, proves that it is possible to be extravagant, yet obnoxious.
Picture Newsies meets Beauty and the Beast, then take away the musicality and class, and add a 20-foot gorilla. And when this loud, large gorilla is the only thing grasping anyone’s attention, besides the lack of substance, you have an issue.
Here’s the thing. If you go into King Kong thinking it’s a flashy tourist gimmick, you won’t be disappointed when you leave. But frankly, it’s advertised as a classy show fit for a queen, and essentially the advertisers are setting themselves up for failure. In an attempt to create a strong, witty female lead, Ann, they ended up with a gold digger who’s only talents are belting a cheesy tune and gorilla husbandry. Yes, she had her good moments and semi-moving ballads, but what does it say about her character if the most respect she receives is from a beast on Skull Island?
If we’ve learned one lesson from this show, perhaps it’s that King Kong should have stayed in the Jungle. Frida Jackson.
There are many things about King Kong the musical that are very memorable. The main thing that really stood out to me is the overall desperation of the story. Rightly so, it takes place during the great depression. The characters in the play, while they all had vastly different personalities, were all desperate. That desperation grew out of many forms: food, security,
money, fame, or just plain madness. Anne Darrow, the female lead, is so desperate for her ticket to fame; she only moved to New York for stardom and she even changed her name for a better chance of achieving fame. This leads her into meeting Carl Denham, the male lead, who is desperate for his own fame. This desperation leads Carl into harder times. While chasing his new idea that he hopes will bring him the prominence he wants, he also is running away from his hardships. In the scene when they board the boat to Skull Island, a very dangerous place, he runs into the tax collectors who
are pursuing him for his many tax evasions. Then there’s King Kong, the namesake of the musical, who is desperate for the peace that only Anne and his island can bring to him.
The show’s music contributed to this feeling; the very first song describes how Anne is trying desperately to become the “Queen of New York,” which perfectly presents the historical context of the play and how everyone is trying their best to get by. When Anne finally does get her ticket to fame, she latches on so tight she even threatens a whole ship crew. She only does this because she knows that Carl, the one who got her onto this ship, will give her what she wants. Carl knows this, and he pushes Anne to do things for his film she thinks is against her personality. Carl is consistently determined to make a name for himself in entertainment when he returns to New York. This impacts Anne and Kong because he forces them to play the part the wants them to play for the world. This only happens because Anne betrays Kong’s trust and allows Carl to capture King Kong and bring him to New York. By the end of the musical, you see Carl taken by policemen; he realizes his mistakes and understands Anne’s desperation in Kong leaving. The overlying tension and desperation of the play evaporate when Anne accepts Kong’s death.
While the musical was memorable for its strong emotions, those same emotions also overpowered the plot and characters, but you also cannot ignore the beautifully crafted scenes and the puppet of Kong himself. The music really tied everything together, except for the occasional techno. Angie R. Canegitta.
King Kong is a Broadway musical which, while incredibly interesting to watch, lacked any real substance or meaning. The musical numbers began the play with a kick. As the scenes moved in and out, the numbers worked to smooth over the shifts in tone. The numbers worked with the set itself to highlight the changes in mood and setting.
The musical labels itself as an adaptation of the classic movie, but with a modern twist–that the damsel in distress is no longer just that. It presents the idea of a woman reclaiming her own fate and choosing to rise up and take control of her future in a world that discourages her from doing exactly that. Yet, it falls short in that realm–rather than being a heroine, Anne comes off as a shallow and vapid actress who only does the right thing when it benefits her. At the beginning, she shows character when she refuses to sleep with the owner of a diner in exchange for being able to stay there, out of the cold for another night. She stands up for herself, showing a change in character–but she quickly counters this brave move by simply following after a random, mysterious man in search of fame and fortune. She shows her thirst for fame in this moment, and leans on whoever she feels will help her to achieve it. She consistently makes selfish decisions–when the ship’s crew attempts to throw the director, who is paying for the expedition, overboard after days spent at sea with nothing in sight, she chooses to save his life. Although it seems like a kind decision, it is not, as she is only doing it because she believes that the director will make her famous as a way of repaying her. She later makes a decision that seems to show development in choosing to free King Kong. Yet, she only does so because she feels guilt. She does the ‘right’ thing only because she feels morally obligated to, not out of her own free will, which in turn defeats the purpose. She only does the right thing when it benefits her or when she feels like she should, rather than because she wants to. The playwright’s attempt to write a multidimensional female character falls flat–throughout the piece she seems to make the same decisions, over and over again. She, like her decisions are predictable–male-driven decisions for fleeting fame prove her character fails to develop throughout the musical. Mollie Smith.