Lord of the Rings Musical - An Initial Look at the Toronto Production

Most of us have laughed, scoffed, and generally derided the Lord of the Rings musical that will premiere in 2006 in Toronto, Canada. But it seems that our opinion may have been premature.

Here's an excerpt from an article in the National Post (of Canada) that gives a great many details about the play... and I, for one, am very intrigued by it!

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Any worries among the assembled media -- from outlets as diverse as the Detroit Free Press, Space TV and broadway.com --that the show would be comprised of hobbits doing the can-can were immediately banished. The excerpts, presented without costumes, sets or lights, reveal a fast-paced show full of energy, athleticism and emotion that will appeal well beyond Tolkien's fan base -- but one that will undoubtedly be bolstered when the full special effects and illusions are added in.

Three of the scenes showed the producers' epic ambitions with over a dozen characters on stage at a time. The earliest featured the heroic hobbit Frodo Baggins (James Loye) agreeing to destroy the Ring and briefly introduced the huge cast who will aid him in his quest: the wizard Gandalf (played by Brent Carver), Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas the elf, Gimli the dwarf and fellow hobbits Sam, Pippin and Merry. (There are fully 55 actors, actresses and acrobats in show.)

Two battle scenes were also excerpted, one featuring the army of the dead summoned by Aragorn and the other with Frodo escaping from the Black Riders. The latter made it clear that the stage adaptation will hew more closely to Tolkien than Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning movies. In the play, as in the books, Elrond and Gandalf save Frodo from the Black Riders (who walk around the stage on stilts) at Bruinen by summoning a sudden flood, whereas in the movie, Arwen does so. "For those people who know the book well, there are things that they cannot see [on stage], but there is nothing to suggest that they haven't happened off stage somewhere," noted book and lyric writer Shaun McKenna, who went through 16 drafts of the script to arrive at the current one. "The more we go on with it, the more faithful [to Tolkien] we try to become."

The producers also presented dramatic scenes that show the cast's acting chops.

Delivering a lecture to Frodo on pity, Carver displayed the most depth as a conflicted Gandalf who seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The bigger musical numbers, composed by A.R. Rahman and Finnish folk group Varttina and sung in Elvish and English, were full of portent and sounded more like grand opera than traditional musical theatre; the quieter songs, like the lullaby Arwen sings to Frodo, sounded like traditional folk songs that have been passed down through the ages.

If the scenes and music shown yesterday conjured up any theatrical predecessor, it is Les Miserables. The round rotating stage the actors are rehearsing on (which is entirely different from the computerized, morphing stage that is currently being installed at the Princess of Wales for the actual production) probably had something to do with that, but so did the idealistic characters singing as they head off to fight for the forces of good. The song Sam sings to an ailing Frodo -- Now and For Always -- also made made one think of Eponine singing A Little Fall of Rain to the dying Marius.

When not speaking Elvish or Olde English, the cast adopted various accents from the U.K. depending on their character. The dwarves sound distinctly Welsh, while the hobbits have a West Country twang. The ents (tree people) have a North Country accent, while the elves, wizards and everybody else speak in British R.P. -- a.ka. Received Pronunciation

What media didn't get to see yesterday was Dora-winning actor Michael Therriault as the split personality Gollum a.k.a. Smeagol. Warchus said that the stage version of the character is entirely different from the animated character in Jackson's films -- and that he hopes to keep it a mystery until the play opens. (Except for Loye, who bears a striking resemblance to Elijah Wood, the cast looks nothing like the movies' stars.)

The sneak peek began with producer Kevin Wallace telling the crowd of about 100 to take pride that the internationally anticipated show was getting its start here. "The world is waiting for Toronto, Ontario, Canada to offer this epic to it," he said in the grandiloquent style of theatrical producers, referring the "power of Tolkien," and the "hallowed halls" the cast has been rehearsing in. "It is a world premiere and it is yours."

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