Monkey Magic: King Kong poses for his first photo

Rehearsals are well and truly underway in Melbourne for the epic new musical King Kong ahead of an opening night set for June 15 this year at the Regent Theatre on Collins Street.

The Face of Kong. Picture by James Morgan
For the first time the face of the King Kong puppet has been revealed in advance of the June 15 world premiere of the musical that bears his name. Picture by James Morgan

Due to the size of the production, the cast of 50 and crew of 76 have been rehearsing across four venues (three at Melbourne show grounds and onstage at the Regent Theatre) to create what is expected to be the biggest, most challenging musical ever staged in Australia.

Global Creatures, the producers of King Kong, announced last year that the Regent Theatre will be Kong’s only home in Australia. While the show won’t be touring Australia or New Zealand, plans are in place to take the production to Broadway after its initial season in Melbourne.

At the centre of the story, and the stage, the giant animatronic Kong stands at 6 metres tall, weighs in at 1.1 tonnes and has been created from steel, aluminum, lycra and latex and has been in development for nearly five years.

The first image of Kong’s face has now been released and AussieTheatre understands that the show’s eleven ‘King’s Men’, who operate the enormous creature throughout each performance, are currently rehearsing on stage with the ‘puppet’ at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne.

“The craftsmanship, ingenuity and love invested by all our workshop staff is evident on stage already, and under the care of Director Daniel Kramer, Puppetry Director Peter Wilson and Aerial/Circus Director Gavin Robbins, Kong is preparing for his worldwide premiere,” said Creature Designer Sonny Tilders.

“We’ll be the proud parents at the opening in June and can’t wait.”

Far from a static puppet, this incredibly engineered creature comes complete with detailed facial expression, delivered live on stage each night by 15 industrial servo motors (the same ones used in the NASA Mars rovers) and 2 hydraulic cylinders, all controlled by an off-stage ‘Voodoo’ puppet operator.

Kong’s eyebrows, nose, upper lip, lower lip, corners of the mouth, upper and lower eyelids and jaw are are all manoeuverable, allowing the puppet an enormous amount of subtlety of expression.

In all, it takes 14 people to control Kong during any given performance – eleven King’s Men, two voodoo operators and a crew member operating Kong’s automation. It’s no wonder then that the bump in period for the show, which began in December last year after the War Horse company transferred to Arts Centre Melbourne, is the longest pre-production and load in period of any live theatre musical ever staged in Australia. 

With such a focus on the technical elements of the show, it’s a evident why the likes Esther Hannaford and Queenie van de Zandt have been engaged in leading roles. King Kong himself will have an incredible presence on stage, and so must the humans interacting with him within the production.

With a score by some of the world’s most recognised writers and a creative team with credentials coming out of their ears, this production is charging towards opening with guns blazing.

And I, for one, can’t wait.


Previews from 28 May, Opening 15 June 2013

Regent Theatre, Melbourne



Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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