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lord of the rings

The Lord Of The Rings
On Stage
Matthew Warchus
Book and Lyrics:
Shaun McKenna
A.R. Rahman, Varttina, Christopher Nightingale

Ricardo Baberini

August 4, 2008


I heard that the production team of Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz had produced the Lord of The Rings for stage and it had opened as a musical in London. I could not believe that it was possible to capture the essence of that magnificent trilogy on the small stage of a really ancient theater-Theatre Royal at Drury Lane in London.  The curiosity got the better of me and so, I flew to London to see the Lord of the Rings for myself.

Almost anyone who goes to the movies or watches TV has seen, at least, one of the three episodes of this trilogy.  Since 1954 many have read the voluminous books of J.R. R. Tolkien and have marveled at his imagination and mastery of story telling.

The three movies were lavishly produced and deservedly won many praises and Academy Awards.  I had wondered if this prolific tale could ever be turned into a musical performed on a small stage.  Theatre Royal is in Drury Lane near Trafalgar Square in London.  The theatre is very old and is not considered big by any modern standard.

Amazingly enough the producers and the director Matthew Warchus along with Musical Director Christopher Nightingale and the great choreographer Peter Darling, with a little help from voice over to stitch the story together, have managed to pull it off.

The story of the Hobbits Frodo Baggins his true friend Samwise Gamgee who along with 7 other people: two humans,  one elf, one dwarf, two hobbits and a great wizard, Gandalf, brave many hazards to bring down the evil Lord of the Rings is remarkably retold in less than 2 hours.

To make this adaptation work, the producers and the director Matthew Warchus (who co-authored the play with Shaun McKenna) have used the stage and sights and sounds in an almost impossible way.  The three act play is embellished with strong music written by A.R. Rahman, Christopher Nightingale and Varattina.  In addition, the producers have chosen actors who are, by and large, very athletic.   Almost the entire cast of actors is suspended in mid-air at one time or the other.  Even the costumes are selected with great care.  They have even added snippets during the intervals, where the costumed Orgs actually roam around the theatre scaring the audience.

The special effects are almost breathtaking. For example, the giant spider almost takes the entire stage and is masterfully controlled by handlers, who manipulate its movements.  During the battle scenes, which in the movie version consumed a cast of thousands, there are only a handful of participants.  But with the clever use of sound, mist and music the producers and the special effects designers Gregory Meeh and Paul Kieve, have managed to achieve the unattainable. Probably the weakest parts of this sumptuous production are some of the musical numbers, other than the theme music and the battle music.  There are several songs that are just the usual run of the mill serenades or odes to lost loves.  Mostly boring, I thought.

Darren Carnall as Gollum really shone through.  He was extremely athletic too and actually managed to climb down the vertical wall covering the screen with such ease that made his character convincing.  His body language was fluid and he squirmed and writhed better than the animated Gollum of the movie series.  Interestingly enough he was the understudy on this particular night.  He has a great future.  

The four Hobbits were just as good as in the movie.  The wizard Gandalf, Andrew Jarvis, added additional dimensions to this play.  The only weak performance in a major role was that of Robbie Scotcher who played the ranger Strider.  In addition, Abbie Osman as Galadriel, Lady of the Golden Wood did not add much value to the play.  To make her taller than the Hobbits, she was wearing shoes which were visibly two feet high. She is probably only five foot tall and ill suited for this role.  She is not a great talent.  She managed to bore everyone by singing a couple of long tedious tunes.  Rosalie Craig as Arwen the Elf princess did not contribute much to this play in the acting arena.

Otherwise, the acting was generally good.  As I said earlier, most of the actors had to double as acrobats as well and frankly they did a wonderful job pulling it through.

The three episodes of the movie version of The Lord of the Rings relied heavily on special effects, thousands of extras, roaring music and wide screen to tell the story.  In retrospect, there were many redundant scenes in those movies.  The movies were great, and yet it is amazing to see how the British producers, actors and directors have successfully managed to encapsulate the whole story into this short musical. 

Eventually, this play will make its way around the world using much bigger stages and more extras for the battle scenes. But, the essence of the story was captured in this play without any fanfare of the giant screen or big name movie stars.

I give this play star starstarstarand recommend it to all.  It is equally great for the very young people as well as for more mature audiences.  Even though the play started at 7:30 PM there were many young children present either in groups or with their parents.  But, then again, in Europe, unlike the US, the kids are not forced to go to bed at 7 and the adults do not call it a night at 9 P.M.

If you can afford it, fly to London to see the play.  Otherwise, wait for it to make it to Main Street America

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