King Kong is back yet again. Last week, a new musical based on the 1933 Kong Kong movie opened in Melbourne, Australia, and will play through the end of August. If it does well, the talk is that the play will head to Broadway in 2014. Kong will be back home, lumbering through the canyons of New York and trying to swat planes from the top of the Empire State Building.
What is the magic of the King Kong story, still successful in this fading recession, eighty years later? Americans have always loved exotic beasts from the past, but none have captured our hearts like King Kong.
The first, and best, movie came out in 1933. It had vivid spectacular special effects; Kong looked as real as your next door neighbor. It became a classic and has run forever on television. It was remade again and again in Hollywood, with slight twists in the story.
There was the original King Kong in 1933, that starred Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, the Son of Kong later that same year, Wasei Kingu Kongu, a Japanese film, that same year. King Kong Appears in Edo (1938, Japanese), the much criticized 1976 King Kong remake, starring a bewildered Jessica Lange, King Kong Lives (1986), King Kong vs. Godzilla (Japanese, 1962), King Kong Escapes (1967), The Mighty Kong (1998) another King Kong remake (2005) and a British spoof called Queen Kong in 1976.
Last year, the Horse Trade Theater Company in New York turned it into a radio play, based on the 1940s radio mystery format, and it scared audiences who came to see it. This summer Summerstage, a New York theatrical series, is even producing King Kong as a hip hop musical. It will play in public city parks throughout August. Kong is a ride at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and millions have howled in delight as Kong almost upends their gondola as he stretches up from the streets of New York and roars at the top of his lungs. Now it is a big, brassy musical in Australia, where it is being heavily promoted at Melbourne’s Regent Theater.
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