A tale of two musicals: King Kong and Legally Blonde
Two movie-inspired musicals are vying for your entertainment dollar in Melbourne this winter. James Croot compares the beauty with the beast.
Inspiration: US film-maker Merian C Cooper's original 1933 film, as well as two remakes.
Location: Regent Theatre, Melbourne.
Ticket prices: From A$60.
Target demographic: Maybe too frightening or risque for young children, but the mix of costumes, music, visual effects and Kong himself means this "action-musical" is likely to be enjoyed by both genders in equal measure.
Plot: A struggling documentary film-maker finds his new leading lady in a soup kitchen line and heads towards the infamous Skull Island with the hope of capturing her encounter with whatever lies in wait on the last uncharted place on Earth.
Acting: While leading man Adam Lyon struggles to overcome his physical and verbal similarities to Jack Black (especially when singing), Esther Hannaford is a charismatic and sympathetic presence as the beauty who "tames the beast". Of course, the real star is Kong himself.
Music and songs: With tunes by The Avalanches, Massive Attack's 3D and Sarah McLachlan there's something to suit a wide range of musical tastes, although the overall impression is one of scattershot (a song each for the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge?!) than true coherence. Moulin Rouge's Marius de Vries provides the atmospheric electronica and re-stylings of 1930s hits. Highlights are the McLachlan-penned What's it Going to Take and Kong love-ballad Full Moon Lullaby.
Choreography: Plenty of toe-tapping numbers with chorus girls a go-go. High energy abounds and everything looked slick and seamless.
Sets and lighting:The Regent has been rejigged especially for the show and it shows from tilting sets to plenty of sub-floor transitions. Visual effects are all part of the wonder and along with Kong, give the show its pizzazz.
Costumes: Risque, revealing and boasting plenty of razzle dazzle, the outfits of the female characters and chorus are certainly eye-catching, from burlesque red to decolletage-revealing "monkey suits". Meanwhile, Kong looks spiffy in fur.
Animal performers: He might be part marionette, part animatronic and unable to move without a squad of acrobats, but this Kong is no donkey.
Overall: While the potential for disaster was high (think The Simpson's Planet of the Apes - the Musical - "from chimpanz-A to chimpanzee"), thankfully Kong is a technical and visual triumph, even if most of the songs and human characters aren't truly memorable (the film's most famous line is merely used as a throwaway remark) and the tone a little lacking in humour.
Inspiration: Amanda Brown's novel and the Reese Witherspoon-starring film.
Location: Princess Theatre, Melbourne, to September 29, 2013.
Ticket prices: From A$59.90
Target demographic: Fans of the movie, those who love pink. Surprising number of tweens in the audience as well as older folks.
Plot: Desperate to win her former boyfriend back, California fashion major Elle Woods attempts to gain admission to Harvard Law School.
Acting: Everything you'd expect from an American musical. Everyone plays the comedy broad and the characterisation wide and over the top. At its heart though is a charming, cute and chutzpah-fuelled performance by one of Australia's stage sirens, Lucy Durack.
Music and songs: While the constant peppy and perky tunes may be a little one-note for some, credit Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin with creating lyrics that aren't afraid to subvert the typical showtunes. Double entendres and risque lyrics abound ("look at eyes and thighs, I'm catnip to the guys"). The highlights are the opening number Omigod You Guys and the informative Bend and Snap.
Choreography: A high-energy show that rarely lets up. Don't think there are many other musicals that include skipping ropes and River Dance moves among its hoofing. The dancing looks slick and professional, even if many of the routines aren't overly complicated.
Sets and lighting: The garish, often cotton-candy coloured backdrops may induce a migraine in some but the many set changes are seamless and make good use of levels.
Costumes: Leading lady Lucy Durack has to cope with 18 (count ‘em) costume changes, most of them impressively quick and all but two of the outfits pink. Fluoro is the other predominate look and snaps to the creators for coming up with a Greek Chorus clad in cheerleading outfits.
Animal performers: Not on stage as much as you might think, especially given Elle's dog Bruiser's central role in the film, but whenever the chihuahua (or its bulldog co-star) enters stage left, the audience is entranced by the antics and obedience.
Overall: It might be a Kiwi bloke's idea of hell, but Legally Blonde is an engaging, entertaining romp with enough eye candy and good humour to melt even the hardest Southern Man's scowl. And for a girl's weekend, it's a must-see.
James Croot visited Melbourne courtesy of Tourism Victoria.
Sunday Star Times