When King Kong first opened in Melbourne in 2013, the intention was always to take the show to Broadway and that dream is finally happening. King Kong will open on Broadway in October 2018, with the official opening night set for the 8th of November.
King Kong had its world premiere season at the Regent Theatre, in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District, winning five Helpmann awards for Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting, Best Sound and a special award for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement for the design, creation and operation of King Kong the creature. This award winning team are joining forces again to bring King Kong to life on Broadway.
Despite the awards and a successful world premiere season, King Kong divided the critics. What they all agreed upon, however, was the success of the puppet itself in Kong.
Global Creatures CEO Carmen Pavlovic also agreed.
“I thought the puppetry was a triumph. I thought the whole creation and the sort of spirit of the production and the aesthetic of it, the vibe of it, were all really wonderful, but I just felt something just wasn’t quite clicking in the story telling. It just wasn’t as developed as it could be and, ultimately, we thought we’d just buff and polish and tweak this to take it to New York. But the more we did it, the more we felt something just wasn’t quite right,” Pavlovic admitted.
“Eventually we felt we had to get to terms with the fact that Kong, as a lead character in a musical, doesn’t sing and doesn’t dance – and therefore we always felt like we were putting him into the middle of someone else’s show,” explained Pavlovic.
“I thought there was something in the device of the story telling that needed to shift to make the whole piece feel like it was born of the same idea. So, you have the Kings men operating Kong and you very much have this sense that they’re breathing life into the creature – and I felt like there’s something about that idea, and the triumph of that idea, that needs to be pulled through the whole production. So for it to be a conventional book musical wasn’t serving the piece ultimately.”
“King Kong still has a book, and it still has a score, but we come at in a different way and in a less conventional way. It’s a lot more visual story telling and a lot more, I suppose, gestures in the piece to the fact that Kong doesn’t sing and doesn’t speak.”
As part of the rewriting of King Kong, Australian writer Eddie Perfect joined the team, writing new songs for the show alongside some of the original compositions by Marius De Vries. Carmen Pavlovic said she wanted to keep that same unusual sound and vibe of Skull Island to the New York production with some new songs to create the 1930s period, but with a contemporary feel. Changes have also been made to the characters and their stories.
“We needed to follow Ann’s story more, because she really is the protagonist. The emphasis of the story, for my liking, needed to be much more about following her and following her friendship with Kong and understanding how knowing Kong changed her as a person. To me, that is one of the most exciting parts of this story to tell – and how you render a modern day version of a character that was developed in 1933 to be very much a screaming blonde, and how you make her matter in the telling of the story today, is something I feel just personally very connected to as an idea in the piece and I wanted to explore that further going to New York,” explained Pavlovic.
While there have been changes to the story line and new songs written, one thing has remained unchanged: Kong himself. The same giant puppet that graced the stage of Melbourne’s Regent Theatre will tread the boards of New York’s Broadway Theatre.
As we chatted about our experiences of being face to face with this huge beast that seemingly lived and breathed, Carmen Pavlovic commented, “He felt really alive didn’t he?”
“Creating a sense of breath in the puppet is so critical and an inanimate puppet is just deathly – it’s why we never let people around Kong unless he’s fully animated and breathing,” Pavlovic explained.
Pavlovic stood in the aisles of the Regent Theatre during the Melbourne season and listened to the comments from audience members after the show. She said the most frequently heard comments were “you have to see it to believe it” and “it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before”.
Despite the obvious presence of the puppeteers manoeuvring this giant beast into position, the constant “breathing” and lifelike facial expressions (being controlled from offstage) gave this puppet a surprisingly real appearance.
“It’s this unbelievable capacity we’ve got to project our imaginations, which is why we never wanted Kong to be hyper-real and we didn’t want to make a sort of hairy animatronic that you might see at a theme park. We really wanted to create and animate him in a live way, in real time, in front of the audiences eyes and that was the birth of the idea that kind of developed the King’s men. And I think it’s really at the heart of the success of the puppetry and animatronics and why everyone responds to that creature – because he’s really believable as a character on the stage interacting with humans.”
Despite the successful premiere season and the incredible response from audiences, Pavlovic knew there were to be changes made before the show moved to Broadway.
“I thought the show achieved a lot during its premiere in Melbourne, but it’s really often the case with new work that it just develops and grows as it goes along. That’s not new. Most productions you see coming from the West End or Broadway have had several outings and shifts and changes before they’ve made it to Broadway and the West End,” explained Pavlovic.
However, despite the need to make changes to the show, it has taken this long for a suitable theatre to become available on Broadway.
“I hasten to point that out actually, because one issue is that we wanted to do further development on the work, but we’ve known for some time that we weren’t going to be able to go to the venue we needed until 2018. There’s just so few venues that Kong actually fits in New York, that we knew it was going to be a long waiting game.”
Pavlovic said the new version of King Kong will still have the broad audience appeal that will attract non-theatre goers, like the Melbourne production.
“It’s one of the things that makes the project still very attractive to me. I think that traditional theatre goers will find lots to love about it, but it will also appeal to a broader audience. That, to me, is one of the most exciting elements I really wanted to build upon in growing the work for New York – it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
Carmen Pavlovic admits that creating a new musical for the world stage takes a large amount of money, but she said more than that, it requires an incredible amount of determination and tenacity. She said there were many times when it all too seemed to hard, but she lived by the “nine words of wisdom” her business partner’s mum used to say: Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.
“Tenacity achieves a lot more than money!” Pavlovic exclaimed.
The one thing that drove Pavlovic’s success to take the work to New York was the success of the animatronic puppet of Kong.
“Because that worked, it really was the impetus to go on and make sure everything else rose to meet that.”
While other countries have expressed interest in King Kong, Global Creatures have been focused on the ultimate dream: Broadway.
When King Kong finally opens on Broadway next year, Carmen Pavlovic says it will be thanks to every member of the cast, crew and creative team from the original production.
“The legacy was certainly created by that original group of people and they, quite rightly, should be excited to see it go on to its future life.”
For more information: http://kingkongaliveonbroadway.com/