King Kong Live on Stage
If your kids are desperate to see the Live production of King Kong and you’re a little unsure then you’re not alone – when King Kong came to the stage in June 2013 Charlie had just turned five and from what I had read, seen and heard there was no way I was going to take him along. Fast forward six months and my mind was changed – but I would still encourage parents of children under 10 (the recommended age) to seriously consider their child’s likely reaction to what can only be described as the most thrilling/terrifying/exciting/scary/exhilarating musical I’ve ever seen!
When: Until 16 February 2014, various times. Click here to book.
Where: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street MELBOURNE
Cost: Tickets start at $55 as well as the 4 tickets for $300 “family & friends” offer. Click here.
This is one musical you will never sleep through!! The music is often loud – like rock concert loud. The lighting effects are akin to special effects and are truly fantastic. The music is good – the singing by the two romantic leads is excellent, but there wasn’t a huge stand out song from the show that stuck in my head other than the old Judy Garland show tune “Get Happy” which is the final tune as you leave the theatre.
Okay first things first – why did I do a 360 degree turn and agree to take the kids along? I have a trusted inside source who had seen Kong in development six months before it opened and she had reported back to me that even though he was a puppet he was pants wet-ing-ly (okay maybe not her words) terrifying. As far as I was concerned that was the end of the story when it came to taking the kids along. Charlie, however, did not stop talking about King Kong from when he saw the first poster back in June. He loved to ponder how loud, big and scary King Kong might be – gosh we had this same conversation pretty much every time we passed a bus stop (which has to be a few times a week) for the last six months. Anyway skip forward to a recent conversation at a picnic with my trusted inside source and another friend, which went like this:
Another friend: “We were thinking of taking along Miss almost 7 to King Kong, do you think she would enjoy it?”
Trusted inside source: “Now that I have seen the show a few times it’s not as scary as I initially thought and I have seen lots of kids in the audience and they seemed fine, so yeah she’d probably like King Kong.”
Charlie magically appeared (from basket ball court 30m away) and practically cartwheeled onto our picnic rug cheering: “Yay King Kong King Kong.” As I dropped him off at Kindergarten the next morning he turned to me and said very seriously, “Mum don’t forget to call King Kong” and when I picked him up from Kindergarten that afternoon his first words to me were, “Are we going to King Kong tonight?!” Hmmm.
Needless to say we had lots of conversations about the fact that the show would be very very loud and even though King Kong was a puppet he was very big (6m tall) and made to look quite real and very scary. Mummy and Daddy were both coming and I reassured the kids that it was fine to leave anytime if anyone was scared.
Back to the review.
While there is much to excite and thrill you in this production, at its heart the story is rather sad (although post show quizzing of the kids didn’t reveal any real comprehension of the bigger story – nor did they seem particularly concerned that Kong had been killed). Despite the line “hope, hope, hope” featuring early on… at the end of the show Kong dies and whilst it’s done via stylised lighting and sound effects that convey his death scene (and suddenly that all stops and the voices of a choir signal Kong’s actual death, so it’s quite beautiful) – as the curtain falls you can’t help but feel a little depressed by the message you’re left with. Thankfully the organist cranks up the Judy Garland number and we all file out humming “Get Happy”.
Just before we meet Kong we meet the inhabitants of Skull Island – a rather freakish race – they kind of look like something Tim Burton might have dreamed up and I thought they were rather terrifying looking. I have to say I was apprehensive about the kids going to King Kong Live and at this point I was worried they’d be spooked – Charlie did bury his face in his dads chest during Skull Island zombie dance and said he was scared. The music was really loud and they did look sinister – but thankfully they didn’t actually do anything other than tie up our heroine and offer her to Kong. This moment lead to the climax of Kong finally appearing – phew, for me it felt like a relief that he was finally on stage (as our briefing to the kids hadn’t included anything about people who looked a bit like zombies). And when Kong appeared Charlie, and the rest of us, sat bolt upright with baited breath.
Just before Kong arrived Charlie (5) was just beginning to getting a little fidgety – it was a long performance (all up the show is 2.5 hours, including 20 minute interval). Thankfully a few minutes later Kong arrived and Charlie was glued to the action on stage (and when the show finished he enthusiastically declared that there were absolutely no boring bits). Immi (8) was completely captivated from beginning to end and even laughed a few times – she loved the bit when the leading lady stands up to Kong and asserts herself. Immi enjoyed it as a theatrical and musical performance – she was thrilled, delighted and comfortable with the fact that it was complete fantasy.
The kids loved Kong – there were moments when he got loud and they stuck their fingers in their ears. A kindly usher appeared at one point and gave them ear plugs (we had actually packed our own but the kids wouldn’t wear them). We were sitting in the 8th row, so pretty close, and at one point Kong comes right to the very edge of the stage – we all leaned in to get a closer look. Kong was definitely the rock star of the production (below are some facts about him) and his roars and stomping felt incredibly genuine – you could feel your own body shake! He really was thrilling and mesmerising. He was also obviously a puppet as his ropes and puppeteers weren’t disguised – so those moments when your imagination got carried away, it was easy to pull back a little and reassure yourself that Kong was an amazing feat of engineering and talent.
When the curtain dropped at the interval Charlie leapt from his seat and exclaimed: “That was awesome!” And despite my repeated: “Are you sure you’re not too scared, are you sure you don’t want to go home now?” he was 100% adamant that he was loving every minute. At interval, as I walked over to the temporary candy bar at the front of the theatre to get us all an ice-cream, I have to say my heart was still beating a bit faster than usual and my legs felt a little wobbly – possibly a combination of the thrill of Kong and the relief that the kids were seemingly un-traumatised.
I think I mentioned that the music is loud (when you get to 40+ everything seems louder). It’s also a modern interpretation of a musical – while there were still plenty of numbers that felt very “musical” there was a sprinkle of dance music. All the music is produced by a band of 10 musicians (hidden somewhere backstage), the singing and sound effects of Kong are all live.
And at the end as I realised Kong was close to his demise I did shed a tear (even though he’s a puppet, he’s by far the most incredible puppet I have ever seen) but neither of the children seemed particularly moved – I think perhaps I have just reached that age where I cry at everything.. (I can remember when I was a teenager finding my mother crying at something on 60 Minutes and thinking that that was rather amusing – I am now probably worse, because 60 Minutes makes me cry every time, so does The Voice and Grey’s Anatomy for that matter).
On the way home Charlie said “Can we go again?” Sorry Charlie, you might have to wait until Kong comes back to Melbourne one day.
So last bits from me:
- The Regent Theatre has booster cushions for the kids
- Check out a YouTube clip (click here)
- King Kong is leaving Australia in February for the northern hemisphere
- There is a scene with a giant snake – King Kong kills the snake and the snake is not very animated (think Chinese dragon but less interesting) so this wasn’t that scary, but I am mentioning it just in case you have a child who is very afraid of snakes
- Expect to pay $6 for a Cornetto ice cream, $6+ for a packet of lollies
- There is no overt swearing (well nothing I noticed) and while some of the dancers costumes are a bit racy (see image above) as far as the story goes in the romance department there is a love song and a brief kiss
- Want to have your photo taken in King Kong’s hand? Visit the Eureka Skydeck before 16 Feb 2014.
• The 6-month bump-in required from the KING KONG production was
the longest load in/preproduction period of any live theatre musical ever
staged in Australia.
• The production requires a crew of 76, to support a cast of 50 actors,
singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers.
• Kong is part marionette, animatronic and puppet, made entirely in
Global Creatures’ West Melbourne workshop where the creatures of
Walking With Dinosaurs and How To Train Your Dragon were also
• Kong is made up of 1.1 tonnes of steel, aluminum, lycra and latex
and is 6 metres tall.
• Inside Kong there is 300 metres of electrical cable, 1500 connections
and 16 microprocessors. Kong even has his own on-board hydraulic
power with a liquid cooled quiet pump.
• The detail of Kong’s facial expression is delivered by 15 industrial
servo motors (the same ones used in the NASA Mars rovers) and 2
hydraulic cylinders, all controlled in real time by 3 off-stage ‘Voodoo’
puppeteers who sit at the back of the auditorium. One of the
puppeteers supplies the voice of Kong live for every performance.
• As well as his animatronic core, Kong is operated on-stage by 10
‘King’s Men’ who are all circus artists that are being specially trained in
• On top of his core chassis, Kong has a layer of air-powered muscles
that give him a lightweight body form. Over the top of that are a series
of highly sculptured muscled bags that stretch and contract as Kong
• There were two full-sized Kong prototypes before the current
‘sculptural-look’ version performing at the Regent Theatre.
Commercial Disclosure: We were provided with complimentary tickets. All views are my own.