King Kong Musical Changes Course, Marsha Norman Exits

News   King Kong Musical Changes Course, Marsha Norman Exits The Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright has departed the project after two years.
Esther Hannaford with King Kong in the musical <i>King Kong.</i>
Esther Hannaford with King Kong in the musical King Kong. Jeff Busby

Marsha Norman, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and librettist, has departed the creative team of the Broadway-aimed epic musical King Kong, Playbill.com has confirmed.

The New York Times stated that Norman’s departure came after years of work attempting to humanize the show’s central figure—a one-ton, two-story silverback gorilla, controlled by a group of puppeteers and aerialists—that “doesn’t speak or sing.”

Since its 2013 Australian premiere, King Kong’s creative team has gone through several overhauls. Among those to depart the project are original director Daniel Kramer and the show’s Tony-winning book writer Craig Lucas. Tony-winning John Rando was at one time in talks to direct. Eric Schaeffer is the show’s current director.

Norman boarded the project two years ago along with Tony Award-winning Broadway composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown (the two collaborated on The Bridges of Madison County).

“What has become evident throughout the process of readings and workshops is that King Kong—with its distinct physicality—doesn't fit the traditional book musical format,” said the show’s producer, Carmen Padlovic, in a statement regarding Norman’s departure.

“We are greatly indebted to everyone involved in this exploratory phase of the work, including the brilliant Marsha Norman who helped bring us to that understanding earlier this year. As a result of this earlier development we feel confident about the new structure we've found for the show. The next steps will be announced soon.”

“Kong is the earth,” Norman told Playbill.com in a 2015 interview. “If we kill it, we’re dead. King Kong, for me, is about how we kill the things we don't understand. Ann Darrow understands him, and so her distress at the end is staggering. But the reason to tell Kong now is that we are continuing to kill things we don't understand, and one of them is the planet. The earth! To me, Kong is the earth. But if you ask Jason, he’ll say Kong is the ‘other.’ You know, the pursued ‘other’ that must be destroyed so that we can all be safe. There are a lot of reasons to tell Kong now.”

EXCLUSIVE: JASON ROBERT BROWN AND MARSHA NORMAN TALK HUMANIZING KING KONG FOR BROADWAY

The show’s score is comprised of revamped versions of 1930s Broadway classics like "Get Happy," "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," as well as contemporary additions from artists like Sarah McLachlan, The Avalanches—plus several original songs.

According to Brown, portions of the show's Australian score—created by Australian creative team member Marius de Vries (Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet) —will remain intact. “King Kong is a little bit different for me,” he explained. “I'm primarily just there to write songs for the characters. There's a whole lot of music that already exists for King Kong that's really exciting, and the gorilla itself is really unbelievable.”

The show has undergone several high-profile readings and presentations over the past year-and-a-half, after Norman and Brown were tasked with bringing a more human element to the epic stage spectacle.

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