Four Musicals on Three Continents: An Australian Company’s Big Bet


“I’ve just noticed that while there are lots of artistic shows that are doing beautifully, there is an audience for big-scale productions — something people can’t see at home — if done right,” he said. “And ‘Spider-Man’ was instructive. Even with all its problems, it was the third-highest-grossing show when it was running.”

Every member of the current creative team interviewed said they had been skeptical until they saw Kong himself.

“This wasn’t on my radar — doing a big musical with a massive puppet — but as soon as I saw what they’d built, I couldn’t turn it down,” Mr. Thorne, the writer, said. He, like other members of the team, said he had been approached out of the blue by Ms. Pavlovic — in his case, by email — and was taken by her gumption and candor.

“She was saying ‘Kong’ hadn’t worked out in a number of iterations, and the thing I loved most was the risk — risk that she celebrated,” Mr. Thorne said. “I didn’t even look at the previous scripts — I’m sure they were magnificent, but I wanted a blank page.”

The musical is set in the 1930s — on Skull Island, in New York, and aboard a ship — but Mr. Thorne’s book is reframed for contemporary sensibilities, and new songs by the Australian musician Eddie Perfect range from dance hall to swing to rhythm and blues. “Every song is like an anthem, to success or to failure or to change,” Mr. Perfect said. “It’s big, because everything about the show is very big — big ideas, big puppetry, big statements.”

Kong is now a victim, not a monster, and the actress, Ann Darrow, is characterized by ambition and anguish, not simply screams. Also noteworthy: Christiani Pitts, the actress playing her, is African-American, and the cast is diverse, significant given that the story has long been seen as having racially problematic undercurrents.

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