Connecticut's Khadija Tariyan: She's Got Kong Kong's Back

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For Khadija Tariyan, it was love at first sight.

She and the other performers for the new $35 million musical were assembled in the mezzanine of the Broadway Theatre where they were to meet the show’s star. As the curtain rose on the stage below revealing him, Tariyan burst into tears as the rest of the cast cheered, whooped and hugged.

There was King Kong, a massive 2.1-ton puppet — 20 feet tall in full fury — moving toward center stage in a formidable knuckle walk, roaring with basso strength and staring at the cast with those dark, deep, glistening eyes.

Ah, the eyes.

“Once Kiko starts looking at you, it’s over,” says Tariyan during a recent break in rehearsals and referring to the nickname the cast has given the big ape — using the first two letters of each of the title words. “I love Kiko. I really do.”


Tariyan is one of 10 athletic, agile puppeteers who move the giant silverback ape with their bodies, ropes and rigging. Three other puppeteers work the facial and other body movements animatronically from a soundproof “voodoo booth” in the back of the balcony, using joysticks and pedals that operate motors and hydraulics inside Kong’s steel-skeleton body and carbon fiber skull.

Part marionette and part animatronic puppet, King Kong was designed and built by designer Sonny Tilders and his team at Creature Technology Co. in their Melbourne, Australia, workshop where creatures for the arena show “Walking With Dinosaurs” and “How To Train Your Dragon “ were also built.

At 5-foot-3 and 114 pounds, Tariyan is one of two female on-stage puppeteers — who also sing, dance and act as part of the ensemble when Kong is not around. The other woman is Lauren Yalango-Grant, a former dancer from the Connecticut-based Pilobolus dance theater company.