All About the Lord of the Rings Musical
"Lord of the Rings" (for the lady in the pink sweater) is the story of a wee hobbit named Frodo who volunteers to trek into darkest Mordor and destroy an evil ring in the fires of Mount Doom--which is not a place you'd go unless you really had to. The stage show is not a musical in the cheesy sense of the word. It's full of music--with sprightly jigs giving way to stormy modernism--but rarely does a character step forward and sing a solo. This writer's worst fear was that Frodo would clench his fist and sing, "The ring! The ring!/ It's such a heavy thing!" Nothing remotely like that happens. The height differential required from characters has been solved without fuss by casting tallish and shortish actors, using shoe lifts and finding excuses to have the hobbits kneel or lie down a lot.
This new "LOTR" is a smoke-and-lights spectacle that approaches Tolkien's work with respect. The show was still being tinkered with last week, but it was rousing and resonant--although, because of time constraints, it sometimes felt as if the plot were on fast forward. Shaun McKenna, who wrote the script and lyrics with an assist from Warchus, has made tough choices about which subplots to cut. The decisions have been almost entirely sound, if painful. The demented old King Lear-y ruler Denethor has been axed, along with his son Faramir. On the upside, the stage show lingers longer in the sparkling Elven world of Lothlorien than the movies did--no doubt because the rest of the sets are necessarily dark and forbidding--and it restores the destruction and rebuilding of the Shire to the finale, an episode that Jackson lopped off.
In all likelihood, the previous paragraph made no sense to you whatsoever. No matter. "Lord of the Rings" should play fairly well even to newcomers. The show is full of striking images, from the ghostly Black Riders to the giant spider Shelob. Even the talking Ents (left), always one of the story's goofier elements, charm here, despite looking, unaccountably, like ZZ Top. All these creatures are essentially giant puppets. At its best, "LOTR" calls "The Lion King" musical to mind--reveling in, rather than hiding, the fact that a show is being put on and a big bag of tricks made use of. Whether or not the show eclipses the movies in anyone's imagination, Toronto's hobbits will likely kick up their hairy feet and stay awhile.