Tapeworthy

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Lord of The Rings: The Musical - Early Review

Dancing Hobbits, Singing Gandolf, Jumping Orcs Oh My!

Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto

WARNING: SOME SPOILER ALERTS

When I heard it first announced last year or so, that The Lord of the Rings was going to be put on stage, I said that it was either going to be Spectacularly BAD or Spectacularly Amazing but either way, something that might be interesting to see.

Now that I’ve seen it? (Although, note, Official Opening night is still not until next week Thursday March 23rd 2006 and they are still apparently tinkering and editing with it a lot, including cutting a whole scene out last week, apparently. So the Official press coverage and reviews are holding off until then).

It’s definitely NOT Spectacularly BAD… but it wasn’t exactly spectacularly great either, though it would be somewhere in the middle leaning on the Great side.

First off, maybe I was expecting too much, as it was partially described as “Dark Crystal” meets “Cirque du Soleil” meets Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King”. It definitely had a lot of those elements, but I kinda wanted even MORE.

Still, upon entering the theatre, you enter the world of the Hobbits in the Shire and its amusing watching Hobbits doing their daily thing around the theatre as people are still trying to get seated. Fireflies dance in mid-air (very simple, very cool effect) as Hobbits try to catch them, jumping onto unfilled seats to reach for them. Then there’s a dance and a ditty, and away the show goes.

A long exposition catches up the story and soon we are off to embark on the long (on my night, it clocked in at 3hrs 45 min including 2 intermissions, though still not the longest show I’ve seen scarily enough, that would be The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic at just over 4 hours and NO Dancing HOBBITS. Apparently LOTR will contractually have to be under 3hrs 30 min though I’m not sure if that includes intermissions.) journey with Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and the others.

Yes, it’s a Musical, though they kept saying it is a misnomer. Which it kinda is and yet, not as much as I thought it would be. It still felt a lot more like a Broadway musical than it did a Cirque du Soleil show, but by the end of the night, I think it was the more traditional songs that stood out for me. The Music was much more Celtic Folk songs or Enya kinda stuff, though I think I liked the Hobbits singing the Folksy stuff the best, and in the end, I actually thought there WASN’T ENOUGH songs.

You could also say it was a play with songs, since there’s a LOT to cram into The Lord of the Rings on stage, and at times, I still felt things could be edited down even further (to die hard fans, it’s a musical, on stage, its going to be cut. Get over it!) and had an even tighter storyline.

Some of the staging was also a little bland, symmetrical and traditional (when TreeBeard and the other trees come sauntering in, do they really have to stand in a semi circle?), and almost just let some of the set pieces take over, but I still commend director Matthew Warchus (Art, The Unexpected Man, True West) trying to juggle numerous characters and 55 actors around.

So what’s amazing about the show? First off, the simplistic but imaginative stage, which was used to it’s fullest. I’ll keep my mouth shut on this one, (and we’ve already seen it used before in other shows to a lesser extent) but the actual stage is used quite effectively in the numerous and constantly changing scenes.

With simple but clever lighting, there was many times when the entire theatre felt like it was shifting about, when nothing was even moving.

The puppets, the Orcs, and a few other surprises are all quite amazing, but again, I’ve seen it before, most notably in His Dark Materials (London’s National Theatre)(though I didn’t actually see it, I saw the pictures and press material) and Julie Taymor’s The Lion King. Still, if things like Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, coming crawling into the audience, in it’s last incarnation on Broadway 2 years ago, and other “special effects” like the Helicopter (Miss Saigon) and Chandelier (Phantom of the Opera), The Lord of the Rings has NUMEROUS offerings for the eyes. Still, maybe with Cirque du Soleil, I was expecting too much? (Granted, they have a bigger stage and LOTR is still limited to a traditional proscenium stage setting). Still, the Horses and Spider were quite cool!

And let’s just Fast Forward 2 years (LOTR is expected to hit Broadway in ‘08) and just hand Michael Therriault his Tony Award NOW for playing Gollum. With an obvious homage to Andy Serkis, the Gollum on stage is just simply AMAZING. (How does he stay like that on stage? For so long? Get this man a Chiropractor stat!)

The rest of the cast is quite good, if not just to fill out their roles, except poor Tony Award winning Brent Carver as Gandalf, already smeared in a few early blog reviews. He may be a great actor but he’s miscast in the role, as his voice is simply too young for the weightiness required by Gandalf.

One question, did they really cast shorter people for the hobbits, taller people everyone else? or just clever costuming? I'm still not sure but you DO get the feeling the hobbits are littler.

So, let’s hope they do a little editing of the script, and I kinda wish they would add in a little bit more acrobatics into the fight scenes, (I almost want the WALL like in Cirque du Soleil’s KA, or another CIRCLE OF LIFE sequence in The Lion King), and I think they need to completely cut the final scene (which I believe is completely new and ridiculous) and I would almost want to ADD some more folk songs, as the songs they had were actually really quite good, just a little sparse between the 3.75 hours. (We need more of Frodo (James Loye) and Sam (Peter Howe) singing, we really do! and James and Peter are so wonderfully hobbitally cute!). I’m still not fully convinced LOTR is conducive to being made into a musical, as it still seems to dark and dreary (and the happy ending at the end isn’t enough to make it a Feel-Good show that seems to be needed to make a Broadway hit nowadays) but it’s still definitely an interesting experience to see on stage.

If you’re a LOTR fan, or theatre fan, go see this show, if you are not, I’m not sure this is the show that will convince you of the theatrical experience (I still think Chicago, Avenue Q or a Cirque show will). It’s far better than Wicked (still the most popular show on Broadway) which I found plodding and slow, (but luckily it’s based on a Gregory Maguire book with a GREAT concept which seems to reel everybody in).
And it’s not Spectacularly bad like Cats, Starlight Express or A Clockwork Orange: The Musical (yes, it existed briefly and I actually saw it, and my friend actually liked it, (Sorry S, I thought it was the most horrid piece of theatre I have EVER Seen)). Still, I think in recent memory, Billy Elliot The Musical (at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre), would still be my number one pick for the show to see in the world right now.

So quantifying the review so you call understand easeir? 3 stars out of 5, 2.5 stars out of 4, B- for show, though maybe a B+ for the effort and cast and crew.

Also while I'm still on Musical Theatre, I'm going to give in my prediction now, before the show even starts, that The Drowsy Chaperone will win Best New Musical at the Tony Awards this year.

Anyways, until next time I see you at the the-a-tah... (see you soon Julia Roberts! my dahling!) Ta -ta for now...

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