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433 Storms THE LORD OF THE RINGS Musical (But It's Not Called "A Musical"!!)

Merrick claws pitifully at his display case...

433 sent in some thoughts on the recently launched LORD OF THE RINGS mega-humongous-musical-spectacle-thingie currently on-stage in Toronto.

I hear it's around 3 1/2 hours long...with two intermissions...and may be London bound, if all goes well. A mighty aspiration considering the mixed reviews the play has been receiving.

Here's 433 with a few more thoughts...

Hey Harry, 433 from Minneapolis here in Toronto, Ontario with a review of the $28 Million stage production of "The Lord of the Rings".

Note I didn't say "Lord of the Rings: The Musical" as it's been called through its preproduction and advertising. The producers are trying to shy away from the "musical" label, and I can see why -- when I first heard about this, my immediate thought was the 1966 production of "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman", a transparent attempt for Broadway to jump on the "superheroes as camp" bandwagon given the success of the BATMAN television series. I thought that it would be some small off-Broadway-type production, cutely cringeworthy.

This past December at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, my lovely ex-girlfriend Hippolyta invited my girlfriend and I to Toronto in March for the premiere. She had procured good seats due to her membership in Toronto's Downtown Business Alliance or something along those lines. We had been itching to visit for a while now, and this gave us the final push to lay down a firm date for our vacation.

The Toronto daily papers have been giving "The Lord of the Rings" mediocre to poor reviews, my favorite being headlined "Middling Earth". We went in expecting very little, and it was somewhat enjoyable.

Michael Therriault has been getting the lion's share of praise in the press for his portrayal of Gollum, and indeed got by far the loudest applause and cheers in the curtain call. However, his performance seemed to be channeling both Andy Serkis and Vyvyan from THE YOUNG ONES. I half-expected him to walk around with a cricket bat yelling "Bored bored bored bored..." His movements were overemphasised, even for a 2000-seat theater, as if trying to remind the audience that he was still there during portions when he was onstage but not speaking.

Brent Carver plays Gandalf in the manner of the old Jon Lovitz "Master Thespian" SNL sketches, with pauses for no particular reason, falling in and out of his accent, and generally chewing the (albeit impressive) scenery. Easily the poorest performance of the evening, yet he is the last to come out and bow at the end, apparently because he at one point won a Tony Award for "Kiss of the Spider Woman". It has become a running joke amongst Toronto theater afficianados that Carver "acts like he's trying to get fired, yet strangely never does."

The hobbits are all great, especially Owen Sharpe and Dylan Roberts as Pippin and Merry, respectively. They master their roles of both comic relief and wide-eyed wonder at the world outside Hobbiton.

The real star of the show, though, is the stage. Not only the much talked about 40-foot segmented rotating and segmented rising main stage, but also the tree branches that cover the proscenium and winds its way up to the boxes. Clever lighting gives it the ability to the theater through all four seasons, as well as the Dead Marshes and Mordor. The gigantic Shelob puppet drew an amazed gasp from the audience, and really freaked out a woman to my left. Even seeing the puppeteers doesn't detract from just how well-done it is. The Balrog scene at the end of Act One used a mediocre puppet, but the total immersive environment, including light, sound, fog jets, warm fans, and black strips of tissue paper (looking like ash) being blown right at you turned it into something quite impressive.

The battle scenes used the segmented stage quite imaginatively to create steps, towers, and ramparts, and the majority of stage combat was okay. However, the interpretive dance by the human soldiers during the battle at the White City and/or Pellenor Fields (they combine the two, also getting rid of Faramir, Denethor, and the Black Gates) was awful. Audience members were laughing, and afterwards made several "Sharks vs. Jets" comparisons. Also, the dead warriors that Aragorn makes such a big production about going to get at the end of Act Two show up during his final speech before the battle, but then are never seen again.

Having such an amazing climax at Act One really makes the fact that the final scene with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at Mount Doom lasted less than a minute just awful. They seem to forget all the amazing things they could do with lights and make it look like Gollum and the ring just slowly fall down a hole screaming. It would be completely confusing to someone with no knowledge of the books or movies, and there seemed to be quite a bit of those folks at the theater.

There was a short Scouring of the Shire epilogue, with Bill Ferny standing in for Wormtongue for reasons I cannot fathom.

Now, I've gone this long without mentioning the music. Well. Hm.

Okay, all of the Hobbit's songs are wonderful. They give a happiness and joy to their lives that are completely in character. Everything else just seems tacked on, however. The Elves' songs sound far too Scandanavian rather than otherworldly, and any other songs are just embarassing, save for Rebecca Jackson Mendoza as Galadriel. The lyrics to her song "Lothlorien" are cringeworthy, but she sells it like it was the greatest song ever written.

I know I sound really negative, but we still had a good time. It's almost worth seeing for the sets alone. The Hobbits and some of the supporting cast really seemed to be having a great time, but this is by no means a great show. It's a great spectacle, and I can recommend it only as such.

"The Lord of the Rings" is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre at 300 King Street West in downtown Toronto, Ontario. Tickets and more information are available HERE.

Thanks for the review, 433. Most appreciated!

Here's another review, which talks about how music is already playing as audiences enter the theater...amidst Hobbits who wander between seats, trying to catch (special effects) fireflies that drift in the air. On stage, other Hobbits bustle about doing their little Hobbit things, waiting for the actual play to get rolling.

I'm guessing it's all rather frustrating and uneven, but the show sounds pretty emersive and amazing, regardless.

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