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‘A Christmas Carol’ a Gorgeous Re-birthing of the Dickens Treasure, on Broadway, Starring Campbell Scott, Andrea Martin, LaChanze

The Cast, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

The Cast of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

If you go to the Lyceum Theatre this holiday season, you will experience a haven of love filled with joy, good will and lots of treats (clementines and Tate’s chocolate chip miniatures passed out to the hungry audience right before the performance). What an exceptional re-vitalization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this production is.

The uplifting classic about the human ability to change one’s character from grasping restriction to one of generosity and love is one we need to revisit as often as possible in this time of political divisiveness and “un-newsworthy” acts of cruelty, malice and social ill will. The production is a subtle call to arms, a reminder of our choices. If we must reveal traits, why not manifest the spiritual attributes of goodness and kindness to energize our minds and hearts toward the positive. Bah Humbug with negativity! The glass should and must be half-full and eventually, it just might be overflowing. All things are possible to those who believe.

hris Hoch, Campbell Scott, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

(L to R): Chris Hoch, Campbell Scott in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

Mind you this idea is never “preached” in this fabulous, sonorous production. But these themes are so infused by the characters, the story-line, the lyrically rendered traditional Christmas carols that waft in and out between bits and pieces of choral story telling, we are ever-so-gently wrapped in their meanings like a glorious present which we are encouraged to “pass on to others.” For those who see the production, and you must to fully appreciate this novel conception of a seasonal delight, you will understand how “pass it on to others, pass it forward,” becomes a prominent and sage aphorism, especially in Act II.

Campbell Scott, Dashiell Eaves, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

(L to R): Campbell Scott, Dashielle Eaves, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

The production which was first presented in London at The Old Vic is currently in its third season there. It is understandable why it is a smash favorite. Will it return next year in New York City as it most likely will in London? Please! Adapted by Jack Thorne with an intriguing design, tenor and texture by a laudatory creative team, the craggy penurious, scoundrel Scrooge portrayed with power and emotional range by Campbell Scott has rarely been given such a send-off.

From costumes to staging to lighting and sound, this is a spiritual manifestation of dreams and possibilities which spark one’s imagination and send chills down our spines. From the first appearance of Jacob Marley dragging chains and bondages up from infernal regions and recriminations, to the subsequent howling of the winds and fog mists swirling diabolically to the deep tonal registers of darkness, this is indeed, first and last “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” Dickens very own handle characterizing his most famous work.

Andrea Martin, A Christmas Carol, Matthew Warchus, Jack Thorne, An Old Vic Production

Andrea Martin as the Ghost of Christmas Past, ‘A Christmas Carol,’by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne,’ directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

Before we meet the protagonist, hear/see his story, the cast shares the cookie and fruit favors and sings in black long coats and top hats with bells ringing a melodic symphony of cheer, whose message clearly, beautifully resounds with grace and humor. Then Scrooge, the gruff, malcontent stomps into the scene in the appropriate Victorian dress of the counting house with white, disarrayed whiskers and shocked out hair. Campbell Scott steps into the soul of this misanthropist who despises Christmas and all it means until ghosts haunt him and he transforms into an innocent child as the light of wonder fills his spirit.

Campbell Scott, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

Campbell Scott in, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

Scott takes a version of a caricature we’ve all come to appreciate and authenticates him as a live individual. I couldn’t help but equate him with some political caricatures of our nation with the hope that they, too, may change, come to life and fill out as generous recondite human beings. But Scott’s Scrooge has the chief driver of transformation propelling him along: guilt, shame and remorse and the inclination to apologize and want to be a better person. Others do love him despite himself and most probably have prayed and blessed him along his darkened way. Thus, he comes to the end of himself on a ghostly evening “the night before Christmas.”

Campbell Scott, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

Campbell Scott in, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

When the Ghost of Christmas Past visits him (the illustrious, quaintly humorous and festively dressed Andrea Martin) we understand the reasons why Scrooge’s present is what it is and un-examined lump of coal which the ghosts put under intense heat and guilty pressure.

Nevertheless, Martin’s ghost reveals Scrooge’s younger days as he looks on poignantly amazed. The exuberance of his childhood, the longing not to be alone and the love are present. He loves Belle (the fine Sarah Hunt) but this love becomes bottled up in dreams of ambition to create a grand lifestyle for her. Of course these fade and became lost as Scrooge allows money to erect itself into an all-consuming devouring monstrosity; there is never enough; Scrooge is never rich enough for himself, though Belle would have married a man of her father’s station because she loves him and as he later finds out, still does love him.

Campbell Scott, LaChanze, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

Campbell Scott, LaChanze in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

The Ghost of Christmas Present enters in the same clouded mist and the foreboding is heightened as LaChanze with ironic tone and admonition ringing throughout her carriage comes to visit. Her outfit is the same as the Ghost of Christmas Past in a festive floral pattern. But her distinguishing feature remains the sunglasses; interpret them as you will. LaChanze manages to be cool and witty in the part; the sunglasses are a nice touch.

With her visit Scott’s Scrooge has begun his subtle transformation. If you blink, you will miss the bends in the turning points of his change. Gradually, he loses his anger, sullenness, recalcitrance, emotional unkemptness and judgmental superiority. Not only does he go with her willingly, he shows his aptitude to learn about himself. After all, didn’t Marley warn him of three visitations for the sole reason of forestalling his friend and kindred mammonish spirit the horrors of Marley’s eternal damnation?

Campbell Scott, The Company, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

Campbell Scott and The Company of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

The mood shifts of the ghostly hauntings are like whispers, acute and filled with mystery. The choral numbers of various carols enhance the ghostly visits. The lamps deck the ballustrade, festoon the stage and theater ceiling suspended by long and short chains. The design is just spectacularly suggestive of the time and place, themes of light and dark, redemption and damnation. Rob Howell (set and costume design) Hugh Vanstone (lighting design) Simon Baker (sound design) and Christopher Nightingale (composer/orchestrator/arranger) especially have secured Matthew Warchus’ vision of A Christmas Carol as floating through the realms between the material and ethereal worlds. It is this symbolic vision that gives credence to otherworldly consciousness as one of the unspoken ghosts that visits Scrooge and promotes his final transformation having come back from a deadened heart, mind and soul.

Campbell Scott, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

Campbell Scott in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

Without giving too much away, the Second Act shines figuratively and manifestly as the light embraces Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Future, in a surprising twist, his sister Jess (Hannah Elless) notes what could be his future. Not exactly in keeping with the tenor and atmosphere of the Act One, nevertheless, Act Two emphasizes not the horrors and fear of a possibly doomed soul, but the joy, happiness and innocence of a reclaimed one.

Sarah Hunt, Campbell Scott, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus, an Old Vic Production

Sarah Hunt, Campbell Scott in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

If this is what it means to be “Born Again,” I’ll embrace it! Campbell Scott rebirths a nightmarish man into a lovely individual whose child-like wonder effuses love and generosity. His performance is moment to moment and the transformation is made complete in “the twinkling of an eye,” and “at the last trump!” This is his redemption through resurrection. And we adore Scrooge’s happiness and good will and find ourselves laughing and crying at his exuberance. Somewhere tucked in the background did I hear “O Holy Night” at these bright, shining moments? Perhaps.

Andrea Martin, LaChanze, Campbell Scott, Rachel Prather, A Christmas Carol, Broadway, Charles Dickens, Jack Thorne, Matthew Warchus

(background L to R:) Andrea Martin, LaChanze, Rachel Prather, (foreground) Campbell Scott, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus (Joan Marcus)

Matthew Warchus’ staging making use of the entire theater even up to the second balcony. This is captivating. And his involvement of the audience making this experience wholly interactive is just grand. I adored the themes: the reigning/snowing down of blessings on the audience, the abundance and prosperity offered by Scrooge’s resurrected spirit that the audience gets to pass along as part of the festivities and much, much more.

I daresay, perhaps agnostics and atheists will approve of this version because it is heartfelt, human and doesn’t have a whiff of sanctimonious clap trap or religious institutionalism anywhere near it. And as for the commercialism of Christmas? The production explodes it at the first appearance of the cast in top hats and Victorian long coats. Thank goodness. Indeed, Thorne, Warchus and the creative team reveal their profound understanding of Dickens’ themes elevating this “haunting” story to the classic it is. The production in breathtaking array exemplifies why A Christmas Carol will resonate always.

See this for the spectacular interactive staging, lighting design, director’s vision, spiritual beauty, acting, Campbell Scott’s Scrooge-transformation, fabulously interwoven-in-the-narrative Christmas carols sung and played like you’ve never experienced before. And see it for the mysterious, otherworldly enchantments and too much to repeat here, not the least of which are the clementines. With special kudos to those not mentioned before: Lizzi Gee (movement) Howard Joines (music coordinator) Campbel Young Assoiates (wigs, hair, make-up design) Michael Gacetta.

A Christmas Carol runs at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street) with one intermission. For tickets and times to this must see LIMITED ENGAGEMENT, CLICK HERE.  You will be happy you did.







‘Sunday’ by Jack Thorne, Directed and Choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans

Sunday, Ruby Frankel, Christian strange, Zane Pais, Sadie Sott, Juliana Canfield, Jack Thorne, Sunday Lee Evans

(L to R): Christian Strange, Sadie Scott, Ruby Frankel, Zane Pais, Juliana Canfield in ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Sunday Lee Evans (Monique Carboni)

Sunday by Jack Thorne, directed and choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans is a striking look at  youth in its misery and glory. Thorne, best known for his success with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, doesn’t take the easy road in this play which melds narrative, action and dance sequences to reflect all that we need to know to understand Thorne’s characters and the events that happen one Sunday evening to impact their lives. The dance sequences representative of the energy and vitality of the characters provide a much needed contrast throughout thanks to Lee Sunday Evans (Dance Nation-Obie, Lortel awards) who also directed.

Maurice Jones, Sadie Scott in ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Sunday Lee Evans (Monique Carboni)

The active narrative by Alice (Ruby Frankel) summarizes a catch up history of the characters in the opening scene and particularly focuses on protagonist Marie (Sadie Scott shines in the second half of the play) an outlier and self-conscious, introvert. Alice comments on choice tidbits during the extended evening of drinking, talking books and sniping sub rosa insults, prefacing her commentary to shore up the audience’s attention about a character’s particular “defining moment.” She concludes her narrative with an epilogue reviewing how each character “turned out” decades later as a fascinating exclamation point.

Sunday, Ruby Frankel, Sadie Scott, Juliana Canfield, Christian Strange, Zane Pais, Jack Thorne, Sunday Lee Evans

Christian Strange, Juliana Canfield, Ruby Frankel, Sadie Scott, Zane Pais in ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Sunday Lee Evans (Monique Carboni)

As we reflect on their interactions in present time, we have a superficial glimpse into how they may have evolved to their final result in the future. But this is in retrospect; hindsight is an exact science. We learn what they “have become” at the play’s conclusion.

The only character who has substance so we may empathize with her is Marie. But between the past and the future which Alice relates is the shadow of present time, a Sunday evening party among “friends.” As we watch the “major” event unfold, Thorne relates an important theme of the play. Human beings rarely live in the present moment to understand how that moment has a particularity all its own. Nor do they understand how it leads to the next and next in the series of the rest of the moments of their lives. Only when there is acute pain and a shattering soul earthquake do they turn on an axis to remember the jump off point into another development in their life’s journey.

Maurice Jones, Sadie Scott, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans

Maurice Jones, Sadie Scott in ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Lee Sunday Evans (Monique Carboni)

On this particular Sunday evening, Marie experiences an event and responds to create a sea change in her life which she propels in one direction, a return to home for solace and comfort. Thorne shows us the how and why of it. Meanwhile, the other characters, especially Bill are the backdrop against which Marie batters herself into an awakening to change the direction of her life.

Juliana anfield, Sadie Sott, Christian Strange, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Sunday Lee Evans,

(R to L): Juliana Canfield, Christian Strange, Sadie Scott in ‘Sunday,’ by Jack Thorne, directed by Lee Sunday Evans (Monique Carboni)

Evans has staged Alice above the fray to comment on the action and characters as she sits with a lone spotlight in the dark on piles of books, then comes down to join the others for the party. The books are a quasi dividing wall in Marie’s and Jill’s apartment n New York City where they live and work and have their book sessions. Perhaps the book wall is an intellectual symbol to keep others out. It is an intriguing set piece. On this evening right before they gather, Bill (the excellent, Maurice Jones whose vibrance carries the second part of the play) the neighbor stops by and tells Marie he can’t join her for the party since he works the next day. He also asks Marie if she can keep the music down.

Juliana Canfield, Zane Pais, Sunday, Sunday Lee Evans, Jack Thorne, Atlantic Theatre Company

(L to R): Ruby Frankel, Juliana Canfield, Zane Pais, Sadie Scott, ‘Sunday’, directed by Lee Sunday Evans, written by Jack Thorne (Monique Carboni)

From the time the others join in and have their discussions about the book of the evening and more, we learn salient pieces of information about each of them. The conversation is not earth shattering, the wisdom is not in abundance and the self-indulgence is obvious. Jill and Milo are an item and express their affection. Marie doesn’t appear comfortable. As she recently lost her job because she doesn’t “fit in,” it seems that she now carries this mantle into the party. Though her strong friendship with Jill (Juliana Canfield) is a boon, Milo (Zane Pais) appears to be jealous and resentful, especially toward the end of the evening as he insults Marie. Keith (Christian Strange) rounds out the group of drinkers adding his opinions.

Ruby Frankel, Zane Pais, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Sunday Lee Evans, Atlantic Theatre Company

(L to R): Christian Strange, Sadie Scott, Ruby Frankel, Zane Pais in ‘Sunday,’ directed by Lee Sunday Evans, written by Jack Thorne (Monique Carboni)

The most pleasant session of the first segment of the production is the dance sequence. A few times the group break into a dance to express their inner emotions, yearning to escape from their lives of boredom and sameness. The actors have convinced us outright of the stasis and purposelessness of their lives. Thus, the dances are a breath of fresh air. Indeed, more could be added to break up the monotony of talking heads who slide past each other without really looking for the uniqueness or resonance of each other’s humanity.

Sadie Scott, Zane Pais, Ruby Frankel, Juliana Canfield, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans

(L to R): Sadie Scott, Zane Pais, Ruby Frankel, Juliana Canfield, ‘Sunday’, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans (Monique Carboni)

As the evening comes to a close and the others leave, Marie falls apart and weeps for her miserable self. Her self-recriminations spiral her into an emotional refuse pile of self-loathing. For solace she calls Jill to come back and spend the night with her away from Milo. When the knock comes at the door, we are relieved to see it is the interesting Bill who makes his way into her apartment stating he couldn’t sleep.

The scene between them evolves with humor (Maurice Jones’ timing is spot-on). And there is a sensual tension that holds promise stoked by Marie who is desperate to make human contact so that she won’t feel so alone. Ironically, it is she who is the one who pushes the sex on Bill. And it is he who avers and attempts to slow the situation down to get to know her better. A writer, he eventually shares his novel’s plot. Indeed, he is one with whom she could, if she is ready, establish a lasting, sensitive relationship with. Thorne gives us this clue when Bill responds to her question what is it that he likes about her. Bill’s answers are poetic, profound, lovely. However, Marie in loss and confusion pushes the sex, demeaning Bill’s ethos and being. Clearly, her devastation and emptiness cannot recognize who Bill is and the soul clarity he can offer her.

Sadie Scott, Juliana Canfield, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans

Sadie Scott, Juliana Canfield, ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Lee Sunday Evans (Monique Carboni)

The ending and the epilogue follow fast and we are disappointed. We understand that the human factor takes over. Marie fails to seize the opportunity for love that stands in front of her. Allowing the morass of self-loathing to overwhelm her, she chooses a path of retreat. In the epilogue that April matter-of-factly delivers, we discover how she lives the rest of her life from then on, materially. Whether her soul spark resurrects, April does not delineate. The sense of loss of human creativity and opportunity for something marvelous in the lives of these characters, regardless of their bank accounts, overwhelms.

Zane Pais, Ruby Frankel, Christian Strange, Sunday, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans

(L to R): Zane Pais, Christian Strange, Ruby Frankel, ‘Sunday’, directed by Sunday Lee Evans, written by Jack Thorne (Monique Carboni)

Thorne’s play is about so much more than youth grappling with identity in a chaotic world. It is about the soul and the spirit missing the tremendous chances offered which are not taken up or recognized. Fear and self-restriction in the protagonist Marie as everywoman looms in everyone’s lives. To break beyond self-loathing, purposelessness, misery and disappointment takes courage and persistence. It is easy to return to a place of comfort which neither challenges nor stimulates us to be different. Thorne’s themes resonate not only for this age group, but for every stage every age group. Boredom is not an option, nor is self-loathing as long as there is life. As Thorne suggests, we define the moments in our lives when we control the narrative. It is when we allow others to define who and what we are that we become lost.

The ensemble of Sunday, Jack Thorne, Lee Sunday Evans

The ensemble of ‘Sunday,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Lee Sunday Evans (Monique Carboni)

The play is slow moving in the beginning to exact Thorne’s themes and for the dance scenes to represent the great contrast in the inner souls of the characters who find dance their purpose and form of expression. Also, the contrast between the younger characters’ callowness and Bill’s wisdom, likeability, sensitivity and grace (so beautifully rendered by Maurie Jones) pops because the ensemble is by nature invisible emotionally with the exception of Marie. The scene between Jones’ Bill and Scott’s Marie is smashing and worth a look see for the acting, writing and direction.

Sunday features scenic design by Brett J. Banakis, costume design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, lighting design by Masha Tsimring, sound design by Lee Kinney, original compositions by Daniel Kluger

Sunday runs with no intermission at Atlantic Theatre Company (West 20th Street between 8th and 9th) until 13th October. See it before it closes. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.








‘King Kong,’ A Must-See Production of Power and Scope

King Kong, Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne, Marius de Vries, Eddie Perfect

‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie, written by Jack Thorne, score Marius de Vries, songs Eddie Perfect (Joan Marcus)

According to the most “prestigious” of NYC critics, King Kong (at the Broadway Theatre) is a Duh, Duh, Duh Dud. Well, esteemed theater geniuses, not so fast. Your glib, “humorous,” self-serving, Kong pulverizations reflect more arrogant, Trumpian insult than notable explanation employing your professional expertise. How about delving into the profound themes and the superb integration of the book/lyrics and music?

Nah!!! Indeed, it seems some critics had more fun shredding the production than examining its excellence. Ah well…sucks for King Kong on Broadway? Hardly!

Call me naive, my taste insipid. But it doesn’t surprise that these folks glossed over the deeper elements of the production directed by Drew McOnie. This powerful, heartfelt and extraordinarily effected musical is written by Jack Thorne (of Harry Potter Broadway fame). And the songs by Eddie Perfect, score composed and produced by Marius de Vries beautifully, powerfully present archetypal themes and rhythms that engage us on a deeply personal level. Indeed, the symbolism and overarching messages in the script, song lyrics and characterizations serve as representations of a mythic story that resonates for us not only for today, but for all time and against colonialists everywhere. Prevalent throughout the production are mythic themes and symbolic archetypes that Jack Thorne the writer and Eddie Perfect and Marius de Vries (songs and score composer) uphold from other Kong versions.

Importantly, the creators uplift the extraordinary, immutable wonder of our lives and the natural world that we tragically mischaracterize and mishandle at our own peril. Anne Darrow (the superlatively voiced Christiani Pitts) discovers this sanctity during her interchanges with the magnificent and mythic Kong. (To interject, the work done to make Kong a living, sentient, feeling, being is just extraordinary.) And though her realization happens too late to influence outer circumstances, on an inner level, Pitts’ Anne evolves. Gradually, she understands the magnitude of what has been lost and destroyed when they remove Kong from his habitat.

Jack Thorne, King Kong,Drew McOnie, Marius de Vries, Eddie Perfect

The Company of ‘King Kong,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Drew McOnie, score composed and produced by Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect (Matthew Murphy)

Pitts’ emotional and vocal range and the strong beauty of her voice amazes and stirs. Her revelations begin at the midpoint of the production after she meets Kong. And her veil-lifting, truth-realizing sequences contrast with the invidious view that empiricism brings the only “truths” worth knowing. Carl Denham, the antagonist (the fine Eric William Morris) represents this materialistic view after he first sees Kong at the turning point of the production. The conflict between these individuals and their perspectives can lead to only one conclusion.

Surely, one theme of this version of King Kong slyly reveals that such empiricism/materialism is a meretricious social value. Specifically, empiricism promotes scientific cruelty (the attitude that animals have no feelings) and commercialism which puts profits before people and other sentient beings. Glorifying materialism, the culture indoctrinates us to internalize its nullifying success norms. And this internalization dissolves goodness, spirituality and the understanding of how all things in the natural world are connected on deeper levels that are unseen and cannot be typically measured.

Both Carl Denham and Anne have been “educated” to cultural success norms as we have all. They define themselves accordingly and are excessively ambitious. Thus, they struggle like the other New Yorkers desperately hustling to make it to “the top” (“Prologue,” “Dance My Way to the Light,” “Queen of New York”). Sadly, they allow this cultural folkway of the “success identity” to undermine  their spirituality, goodness, and empathy.

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, King Kong, Drew McOnie, Eddie Perfect, King Kong, Jack Thorne

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris in ‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie (Matthew Murphy)

Initially, Denham intends to use his artistic abilities to make a film of an incredible adventure that embraces the “wonder” of life. (He appears as a “knight in shining armor” willing to defend Anne against a sex predator lout who runs a bar.) Then in pursuit of the artistic dream, he devolves to the empiricist’s attitude of “seeing is believing,” and embraces commercialism whole hog. Superbly portrayed by Eric William Morris, Denham’s powerfully voiced, confident entrepreneur gone to rot is the perfect foil for Anne and Kong.

When Denham offers her a job, the desperate, starving Anne, who cannot compete for acting jobs in the rapacious city, accepts his intriguing offer of adventure. Denham appears to be a sincere artist willing to sacrifice and connive for his artistic dreams. He remains one step ahead of creditors and insurance companies. But we admire his pluck in risking everything for this shot at success.

Concurrently, we admire that Anne intends to “make it” without prostituting herself, literally and figuratively, by being beholden to a man to support her. A maverick woman whose independence and will dominate, she will attain her goal to be famous by “doing it her way.”

These initial characterizations and the plot pay homage to the original 1933 film and to the Peter Jackson version of King Kong of 2005. But variations in her characterization abound. Indeed, Thorne, Perfect, and de Vries have removed Anne’s love interest. Doing so shifts and modernizes the themes. The focus becomes Anne’s development and self-discovery as an individual.

Her journey also emphasizes her recognition of an important truth beyond the culture’s material, profit-motive values that promote self-destruction and the destruction of the natural world. Through Anne and Kong we live and empathize.

The stirring and engaging themes and the moral imperative of such ideas resonate with the audience throughout. Enlivened by thrilling music and athletic action and dance sequences, one stays on the edge of one’s seat. Indeed, the company had us from the first sounds of the overture and visual projections of the iron beams of the Empire State Building.

As Thorne develops the plot and characters, we see into their souls. A twist occurs when they sail to Skull Island (“Building the Boat/”Setting Sail”) and the extent of Denham’s tragic ambition manifests. Confronted by Captain Englehorn, who values his life and those of his crew, Denham no longer can obfuscate about  their dangerous destination. The captain refuses to continue and the mutinous crew backs him. However, Anne bluffs them. With acting guile and an ambition equal to Denham’s, she threatens to blow up the ship if they turn back.

King Kong, Jack Thorne, Marius de Bries,Eddie Perfect, Drew MOnie

The Company, ‘King Kong’ written by Jack Thorne, score Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect, directed by Drew McOnie (Joan Marcus)

Notably, this plot twist of a strong female confronting a herd of males works. Not only do Pitts, Morris, and the ensemble act with spot-on immediacy, Thorne has threaded the character development precisely. For in this scene we discover Anne’s rapacity is greater than Denham’s. This setup becomes all the more ironic and meaningful after she interacts with the divine-like Kong, and transforms (“Full Moon Lullaby”/”Shine”).

But Thorne carefully designs another note to her character: sensitivity. This trait abides in her relationship with Denham’s assistant Len (the excellent Erik Lochtefeld). She and Len form a bond which foreshadows the heartfelt communication she has with Kong. A character whom the world deems a “loser,” Len reveals kindness, sympathy, and humanity. Refreshingly, Len provides the counterbalance to Denham’s self-serving cupidity. And he puts Anne in touch with a part of herself that remains human and authentically kind.

After arriving on Skull Island, a mysterious land of otherworldly presences, Anne and Denham begin their filming. Anne screams. Intrigued, Kong emerges, terrifying with his roars. But as the sailors shoot at him,  he grabs Anne and runs. Their escape through the jungle is an amazing light show with projections. It dazzles and thrills. This artistry (animatronics, puppetry, stagecraft) realizes Kong’s panic and frenzy, and Anne’s horror. With the added commanding music, the exciting sequence is unforgettable. For the first time King Kong has emerged. And he takes our breath away. For Denham, Len, Anne, and the others, Kong’s presence blinds. What direction the characters will move in after this moment (toward vision or darkness) will be revealed by the conclusion.

The projections used when the crew lands on Skull Island become the appropriate lead-in to the presentation of Kong. The majestic creature in all his ferocious sentience truly is a work of genius and love. Kong’s reality is what the audience comes to see. With the story spiraling from the past into present-day issues and themes, this most empathetic, intelligent being is readily identifiable. For that alone, the production wins. Indeed, Kong’s iconic presence symbolizes all that remains beautiful, ineffable, incredible and surreal about the natural world. That humankind’s craven lust to own and capitalize what can never be possessed is human nature’s tragic flaw.

Each mind-blowing projection works beautifully to create atmosphere and tension. The artwork and lighting also underscore the themes. For example, in the opening scenes the projections, along with the superbly choreographed dance numbers, help to create the energetic hyper drive of the city and the frenetic vitality of desperate New Yorkers. All the artistic elements cohere to simulate emotional fervor and the rapacity that has influenced Anne. The boat building and sailing sequence astounds. Artisans have simulated the rhythm of the undulating waves. Kong’s run through the forest clutching the terrorized Anne excites. Particularly memorable, the artistic designers’ evocation of Skull Island’s spiritual mystique through projections, glowing vines, costumes, dance movement, and light beams proves to be a visual stunner. The projections foreshadow and intimate the fabulousness of Kong, himself.  They also symbolize the magical and ethereal quality of our world which we do not see because we have lost our way in a meretricious culture.

The great irony of the visible/invisible, sight/blindness conflicts manifest when Kong, who is the last of his kind “appears,” and the humans do not understand nor appreciate what they are “seeing.” Humankind’s flawed, corrupted relationship to other animals (including themselves) and their habitats is a theme the reators suggest after Kong explodes of of the jungle. The creators also highlight the discriminatory and oppressive attitudes abuot indigenous peoples’ otherworldly perspectives and veneration for the “natural” world. The colonialistic/fascist attitudes are wantonly dismissive precisely because responsibility to understand and acknowledge sentience and intelligence inherent in the natural world would disqualify commercialism and exploitation.

The fascism of rendering invisible what is glorious, makes it ready game to enslave, exploit and commoditize. Thus, Denham’s and the others’ sight of Kong leads to devastation. The colonizers lack the inner vision to understand/value the mystical sanctity of what they see. To Denham Kong represents an entrepreneur’s dream come true, an answer which will move him from rags to riches. Taken in by the “ape’s” awe-inspiring presence, Denham’s ambition moves beyond film to live theater, prompted by his assistant Len.

Len’s empirical comment, “seeing is believing” provokes Denham’s wrong-headed, soul-crushing exploitation. His plan to benignly film then leave the extraordinary creature unmolested implodes when the film he did shoot becomes unusable. As the weak often do when they intend to use others for their own agendas, the rationalize.  Morris’s portrayal of Denham rings with authenticity as he justifies his noxious behavior in the songs “The World” and “It’s Man.” With Kong he will “change the world.” His pride is tragic. His dismissal of the truth of Kong is a willful turning away into soul darkness.

Christiani Pitts, King Kong, Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne, Eddie Perfect, Marius de Bries, The Broadway Theatre

Christiani Pitts in ‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie, written by Jack Thorne, lyrics by Eddie Perfect, score by Marius de Vries (Matthew Murphy)

Thus, Denham shifts focus. He dismisses his artistic fervor and demeans his once expressed wonder of life. Instead, he will exhibit Kong in a freak show with the “ape” as the star. The characterizations of Denham and Anne are pulled in opposite directions by the conclusion. For as Denham makes plans to kidnap and commercialize Kong, Anne forms a bond of communication with him, which she denotes as a miracle that changes her. The two humans’ divergent choices inform the conflicts that explode between them and carry into the last song.

With the brilliantly suggestive portrayal of Kong’s sentience, Anne and the puppeteers mesmerize us and break our hearts. This is especially so in the scenes they have together and especially toward the end. Because Kong’s intelligence sparks a life-changing revelation, Anne discovers her own core. But can she maintain this understanding to help free herself and Kong from Denham’s clutches in New York City?

For his part Denham devolves from mistakenly thinking he can own, control commoditize the ineffable. His humanity caves as cupidity and arrogance overthrow his better nature. By the time he bullies and extorts Anne to trick Kong with an alluring scream as she did on the island, he has already harmed himself. When he shatters his life-giving vision of capturing wonder through art, his ending ignites, and throughout the second act we watch his deterioration into misery and a state worse than when he began the adventure.

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtfeld, King Kong,Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne

(L to R): Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtfeld in ‘King Kong’ directed by Drew McOnie (Matthew Murphy)

By the conclusion, Anne understands her own corrupted, profane nature. And she seeks to be free of it by embracing Kong as sacred. Ironically, Kong has inspired her to seek soul freedom, but it is too late for both of them (“The Wonder”). He has sanctified Anne’s vision but tragically she cannot offer him anything in return but death. At least his freedom will result in a death he is worthy of – he dies unchained and on his own terms. As for Anne, she will have to live with the memories of what she has done, what she has learned, who she has lost.

And thus, it remains. Kong’s story is of the loss of a world he once inhabited as he and it become extinct. Anne’s ultimate revelation is that her unworthy profane dreams led to the destruction of Kong’s sacredness.

The spectacle-filled ending leaves us with questions. Where do we stand? In acknowledging life’s beauties, do we accept that the natural world’s magical thrumming must be honored and safeguarded? Can we escape the genocidal impulse to colonize and wantonly eradicate what we don’t really understand, which includes ourselves and our habitats?

Thorne, Perfect, de Vries, and McOnie spin out the production’s siren call from the past into a theatrical iteration of today’s currency. I enjoyed the script enhancements and how the profound themes echoed through Perfect’s lyrics and de Vries’ exhilarating and commanding music. The creative team effects the mythology of King Kong as an evocative, representational phantasmagoria. Their approach parallels the original film’s setting with our time but doesn’t authenticate it.

Specifically, the creators elevate the production so that one may appreciate it on many levels. As the wise cautionary tale Perfect’s lyrics, Jack Thorne’s script and Marius de Vries’ music warn what poet William Wordsworth indicts humanity for in his sonnet, “The world is too much with us.”  At the conclusion of the sonnet, Wordsworth mourns the culture’s “being so out of tune” it cannot revel in the supernatural, mythic, magic of Nature. “Getting and spending, they lay waste their powers” and are blinded by their own acquisitiveness for things. Indeed, as a symbol of the sacred, Wordsworth would have appreciated the mythology of King Kong and understood the terrible and profound meaning of his destruction at the hands of people worshiping the Golden Calf and Mammon.

This theme especially reverberates against the backdrop of the self-dealing, self-serving White House administration, whose every whim seems to be how to enrich themselves and their businesses at the expense of our nation while making inconsequential the natural world and those whose ancestry most clearly appreciated their connection to the ineffability of Nature’s wonders (Indigenous peoples).

Finally, another word about de Vries’ musical score. It does not mimic the music of the thirties which would limit and distract from the production’s larger focus. Instead, the music hails from various genres (pop, rock, blues and more). Above all it transmutes the themes in its lyricism and dynamism and it aptly conveys the different moods in the scenes from being sonorous to thrilling. Perfect and de Vries cleverly meld the songs and dance numbers to the arc of the updated story development. Coupled with the magnificent puppetry/animatronics, the production hits it out of the park and the ball is still flying into the heavens.

Indeed, for good or ill many will see this show, not only tourists but New Yorkers. And for those stuffed shirts with turned up noses, just move past prejudice and pre-conceived notions about a gigantic ape musical. That, it is not, nor will it ever be, regardless of who attempts to demean it as such.

This brings me to the last points of this very long, praiseworthy review of King Kong. The savvy acerbity and self-congratulatory, pompous snark of some King Kong critics make a “blow-the-belt” reference to the producers’ exploitation of King Kong in the merchandising, as all Broadway shows are wont to do. Fine! But the critics who panned the show reveal their flaccid contempt to dun what may have more depth than what they dare acknowledge. This, is a key theme of the production which laughably they miss. Would they make King Kong an inane monstrosity of Broadway? Indeed, then they underestimate its sentience, intelligence, courage and heart.

Thus, if I find some slippery reviews of this show and “artistic” finger-pointing laughable in the reverse, then let that be my problem. For I enjoyed the production of King Kong. It is an intrepid undertaking for those making their business on the great White Way. I credit the producers for their audacity of hope and painstaking labors to get King Kong before a public who will appreciate their efforts.

I cannot say enough about the incredible artistry it took to bring all these elements together. Much praise goes to everyone involved. King Kong is at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway, NYC). Tickets are available online.
























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