Randy Weiner has a reputation to live up to. Considering the performance impresario has been behind some of the most talked-about theatrical nightlife experiences in recent memory—including the immersive Macbeth production Sleep No More and the legendary-in-its-time burlesque club The Box—his next step has to be something big. And it doesn’t get much bigger than a giant gorilla terrorizing New York City.
Beginning July 30, Weiner and director-producer Alfred Preisser will present their hip-hop re-imagining of King Kong in various New York City parks, including Central Park on August 5.
Here, Weiner and Preisser explain why the story spoke to them, how they adapted it and why the 1970s Bronx is the perfect setting for the tale.
How did the idea to rework the story of King Kong for a theatrical performance come about?
AP: It goes back to a conversation Randy and I had back in 1999 or 2000. We had talked about doing a stage version of Kong where we used the plot that people are familiar with in order to talk about New York City and the record industry.
RW: I was working for a while with a bunch of hip-hop labels, particularly with a label called Live Records, and it was just an interesting dynamic to work in the record business, specifically the rap business where the nature of the commercial enterprise reminded me somehow of the commerce in the King Kong story.
AP: It’s not just about making money, it’s also about finding something great and bringing it back to civilization, putting it on display. So our deepest, darkest is the South Bronx of 1978.
What was it about the 1978 Bronx that seemed like a good setting?
RW: Growing up in New York, it was place where you’d get off the Major Deegan at the wrong spot, and your parents would tell you to roll up the windows. It was a place where you’d see these beautiful subway cars rise up out of the ground covered with graffiti. I think for me it really was this magical mythic place.
What about the idea of King Kong do you think makes it right for today?
RW: I think King Kong touches on hot button issues. I think what were interested in doing is going deeply into some of these issues and finding the core. The music is at the core of what all these people love. The music is at the core of hip-hop. And I think what makes it particularly exciting for me is there celebrating the 40th anniversary of hip-hop which doesn’t really make it modern, current but just something to take stock of it. It’s a whole era that people haven’t directly addressed—the relationship between record labels and commerce and racial groups, ethnic groups, religious groups. How they’ve all come together to cerate this amazing thing.
AP: We’re a generation away from the late ’70s, when things were tough in New York City, and I think people are fascinated by that era now. I think people really like to look at this dangerous, rakish New York City that spawned hip-hop, that spawned graffiti art, that spawned a lot of creativity and tumult and were far enough away from it now that it’s now a theatrical period.
And this is Randy’s first production in a park…
RW: It’s my first production in Central Park. My whole thing is doing shows in non-traditional places. I’ve done many shows outdoors, so I’ve actually done a lot of work—it’s just a very different medium when you’re working outdoors in this kind of environment. I think it’s a medium that has a lot of appeal for Alfred and myself because anyone who’s walking by and wants to come in can see it. A lot of the theater I do is in nightclubs, where it’s going to have to be interesting and exciting enough in a nightclub to work over a pounding beat and all sorts of distractions and people talking. I kind of love that as a bar you have to clear, it’s not as refined and quiet and sitting in a seat. You’ve got to work over the tumult of this audience.
Now you’re not doing the movie version of King Kong, but do you feel any onus to stuck to the story people know?
AP: We’re not doing the movie.
RW: We’re not doing the movie at all.
RW: Just the idea of King Kong of going into someplace and finding some incredible creature there. That’s all we’re taking.
AP: Just battling all the monsters that you have to battle in order to achieve your goals. I don’t feel an onus to represent King Kong accurately because I think it’s such an iconic character, it will never go away. The black and white movie will never go away. The debate over the potentially retrograde sexual and social politics of the movie will never go away. We’re just doing a highly idiosyncratic show about music in New York City in 1978. It’s so different from the movie.