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King Kong on Broadway reviews round-up : 'One of the most ludicrous musicals in recent memory'

The new show, which opened on Thursday night, is based on the 1933 film – and involves a giant gorilla puppet

King Kong on Broadway - Preview

The reviews are in for the new King Kong Broadway show – and critics have been left thoroughly disappointed by the $35m reinvention of the 1933 film.

King Kong, which opened on Thursday at the Broadway Theatre, takes place in 1931 amid the Great Depression.

In this version, written by Jack Thorne, the Tony-winning author of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Ann Darrow is a young actress whose dreams "reach as high as the just-completed Empire State Building".

Darrow is faced with a difficult choice when filmmaker Carl Denham (who swears he can make her a star) plots to capture the 20-foot-tall, 2,000-pound Kong to display him in New York City.

While the use of a puppet for the giant ape – and the mastery of the animatronic team – have been met with praise from critics, reviewers weren't impressed with the show's plot, characters, and tunes.

Here's what the reviews have said so far (spoiler warning):

The Guardian

1/5

The book by the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright Jack Thorne, the score by Marius de Vries and the songs by Eddie Perfect, under Drew McOnie’s direction, provide a clumsy retread of the 1933 movie though now with a less coded racism, less coded rape and fewer anxieties about the tension between primitivism and modernity. What’s left? A show that makes breathlessly little sense and is rarely even fun. The people who brought you Walking with Dinosaurs have now brought you Lumbering with Primates. This is less a musical than an amusement park ride perpetually needing repairs, a feat of projection design (Peter England) with occasional dance breaks. (Alexis Soloski)

The New York Times

(Negative)

A car wreck of clichés like that simply can’t put a feminist story across meaningfully. Or any story, really — and that’s a bigger problem than the bad score and sluggish 20-foot marionette. I find it hard to believe that the book is by Jack Thorne, who won a Tony Award last season for writing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (Jesse Green)

Deadline

(Mixed)

I won’t give away details of the beast’s mighty, fatal fall, except to say that it works until it doesn’t. McOnie and Thorne make the mistake of taking the story a beat too far, ending the musical on a note of Ann’s self-empowerment. That’s nice and all, but there’s a big, dead gorilla somewhere out there who isn’t feeling so empowered. King Kong once again turns Disney Princess, when what’s wanted is a Scream Queen. (Greg Evans)

Los Angeles Times

(Negative)

The gender politics are an incoherent mix of the old and the new. Ann (Christiani Pitts) is transformed from a passive victim into an ambitious starlet who still has a heart of gold even though she’s willing to compromise her conscience at every turn for the chance of becoming “Queen of New York”. This is the title of one of the show’s highly derivative musical numbers that could be imported directly into the next Forbidden Broadway spoof.

Even when the songs by Eddie Perfect jibe with the story, they rarely make emotional sense. King Kong doesn’t simply come up short as a stage translation of a landmark horror film. It actually manages to fit around this failure one of the most ludicrous Broadway musicals in recent memory. (Charles McNulty)

Vulture

(Positive)

King Kong, the creature, is a truly marvellous feat – of design, of engineering, of choreography, of performers and operators and stage managers functioning at bomb-diffusion levels of precision – and King Kong, the show is, beyond its spectacle, generic. It’s an amped-up blockbuster with largely forgettable songs, many of them of the belt-and-inspire variety. It’s thunderous and technologically impressive, carefully calibrated to contemporary sensibilities (ie, it’s hooked up to an IV of girl power), and as slick and shiny as an oil spill. As with, say, Space Mountain, the idea is just to go along for the ride. (Sarah Holdren)

TimeOut

2/5

The truly frustrating thing about King Kong is the waste of it all. Why did this story, whose central figure necessarily cannot sing, need to be a musical at all, much less one that suggests a late-run Simpsons parody? Have the success of War Horse and Thorne’s own Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – and the bellyflops of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour – taught us nothing? King Kong looks down on its huckster villain, film director Carl (Eric William Morris, overplaying an unplayable role), for taking an awesome creature and surrounding it with mediocrity for a gawking New York audience – but that’s exactly what this production does itself. In the sad eyes of the second act’s chained and stooped Kong, you see flickers of a show that might have been. (Adam Feldman)

Entertainment Weekly

(Mixed)

In a moment before the end of Act 1, Carl realizes people won’t believe Kong exists unless they see him with their own eyes. “He’s not a film,” he declares. “I thought about it all wrong — he’s theatre.” It’s a meta moment, because he’s right: The Kong puppet is an impressive feat you’ll need to see for yourself. The rest of the show, though, doesn’t command that sort of attention. (Jessica Derschowitz)

Variety

(Positive)

After an earlier production in Australia and with the addition of a largely new creative team, the producers (led by Global Creatures) of this $35m Broadway epic, based on the classic 1933 film, have re-envisioned the story in striking theatrical terms, using dazzling projections, super-sized puppetry and lush underscoring to create one thrill ride of a show. Topping the list of visual wows is the magnificent, moving and oh-so-expressive title character who, alas, is not eligible for a Tony. (Frank Rizzo

The Hollywood Reporter

(Mixed)

This is a rare time I can honestly say that while King Kong the musical is a wretched mess, I would recommend King Kong the stage spectacle. "He's not a film," exclaims Carl Denham in a moment of revelation from the megalomaniacal movie director, a vanilla villain in Eric William Morris' insipid performance. "I thought about it all wrong. He's theatre!" That might not be 100 per cent accurate, but either way, the ape is simply amazing. (David Rooney)

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