BWW Album Review: KING KONG Original London Cast Recording
Not to be confused with the misunderstood silverback gorilla soon to be playing on Broadway, the Original London Cast Recording of South African musical King Kong is being released by Stage Door Records on CD this week.
The pioneering jazz opera focuses on the life of heavyweight boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, known in professional circles as 'King Kong'. As his career skyrocketed, his personal life took a dramatic downward spiral, involving alcoholism, gang violence, murder and, sadly, suicide.
The show debuted at Witwatersrand University Great Hall in Johannesburg in 1959, where it received massive acclaim in South Africa. King Kong transferred to the Princes Theatre in London in 1961, including original cast members, where it ran for 201 performances and was commended for its staging, performances and score by Todd Matshikiza. Sadly, a Broadway transfer never materialised. Most recently in 2017, the musical was revived by the Fugard Theatre Company in South Africa.
Matshikiza's music - with orchestrations by Stanley Glasser - are the saving grace of the production. Its melodies are catchy and fulfilling. Each instrumentalist has their moment to shine and it is a joyful exhibition of jazz, no more so than in the overture and finale "Sad Times, Bad Times". The hi-hat sets the sultry beat with the clarinet providing the smooth top line.
"Kwela Kong" features some great honky-tonk piano, whilst the piccolo and acoustic guitar take centre stage in the jiving "Crazy Kid". There are also authentic African rhythms and musical cultural references throughout "Damn Him", "Gumboot Dance" and "King King" during Act One.
The diction in vocals could be improved during "Back of the Moon" and "Quickly In Love", however "Death Song" features a wonderfully produced vocal arrangement. The ensemble work is of varying strengths throughout the recording, starting fairly weak in "Marvellous Muscles" and "King Kong", but creating a stronger and increasingly powerful gospel sound in "In The Queue" and "Wedding Hymn".
In my opinion, the selections from the Original South African cast included on the CD are a lot easier to listen to. Although some cast members are the same, the star of this company is Miriam Makeba, who performs "The Earth Turns Over" and "Quickly In Love" with much more conviction and musicality.
The bonus tracks are a nice addition, although the cultural nod is missing from Elaine Delmar's renditions. Terry Lightfoot's New Orleans Jazzmen are superb in their version of "King Kong", with some of the best jazz musicians I've heard in a long time.
Orchestrations overtake the vocals, rather than working harmoniously in this groundbreaking theatrical venture.
The King Kong Original London Cast Recording is due for release on 28 September and can be purchased at www.stagedoorrecords.com