There are two ways of looking at "King Kong": as a Broadway musical, and as a stage spectacle. By musical theatre standards, it falls short. The music, book, choreography — fairly mediocre. But target audiences are likely coming for one thing, and that thing stands mighty tall.
20 feet tall, to be exact. The 8th Wonder of the World, it's called, not quite. But in design and execution, it truly is a wonder. The effects are astonishing thanks to an army of handlers who manipulate practically every inch of Kong's 2,400-pound body. Applying animatronics, state-of-the art technology, and good old-fashioned puppeteering, Kong does seem alive. His eyes are so real, in fact, that when the doomed ape fell to his death, audience members could be heard weeping,
Add to that, stunning visual projections surrounding the stage that enhance the motion effects, creating the sense that Kong is actually running through the jungle with starlet Ann Darrow, screaming in-hand.
It's set in 1931, like the original film, but in keeping with modern times this Ann is an empowered woman. And while she can scream with the best of them, she's no damsel in distress. Christiani Pitts is a huge asset to the production. A fine actress with a strong voice, her talent impressively fills the void when Kong's not on. There's just one other major role: Eric William Morris as the unscrupulous film director who brings everyone to Skull Island, and he too is quite good.
If only they had better material to work with. Jack Thorne, who wrote the masterful "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," offers a truncated story with structural holes and loose ends. Eddie Perfect's pop songs aren't bad, but they feel wedged in and disconnected, almost like a jukebox musical. Director/choreographer Drew McOnie keeps the action moving well enough, starting with a knockout montage sequence, but after a while, the dancing starts to seem like a "Hamilton" rip-off.
But none of that matters if seeing a giant life-like gorilla puppet on the stage is your idea of great theatre, and it is awesome. All others: enter at your own risk.