“The Lord of the Rings”

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London • 1st September 2007 • 2pm
Book and Lyrics by Shaun McKenna & Matthew Warchus. Music by A. R. Rahman, Värttinä, with Christopher Nightingale.

Directed by Matthew Warchus. Choreographer: Peter Darling. With James Loye (Frodo Baggins), Peter Howe (Sam Gamgee), Malcolm Storry (Gandalf), Michael Therriault (Gollum/Sméagol), Laura Michelle Kelly (Galadriel), Jérôme Pradon (Strider/Aragorn), Steven Miller (Boromir), Jon Tsouras (Legolas [understudy]), Alex Bonnet (Arwen [understudy]), Sévan Stephan (Gimli), Ben Evans (Merry [understudy]), Stuart Neal (Pippin [understudy]), Terence Frisch (Bilbo Baggins), Jennie Dale (Rosie [understudy]), Brian Protheroe (Saruman), Andrew Harvis (Elrond), Michael Hobbs (Treebeard)…

I had missed this show by a few days when I last went to Toronto, so I was sort of curious, especially given what I’d read about it.

First of all, it is a spectacular with music rather than a bona-fide musical. There are few actual songs, like the Hobbits’ song at the very beginning, which is quite good, but most of the score feels like underscoring. The staging of the first act is breathtaking, with several disappearing acts and a finale which made me wonder how they were ever going to top it.

Well, they don’t. The second and third acts are a bit underwhelming. Of course, the ever-moving 17-part turntable is used deftly and imaginatively, but there’s only so much a turntable can achieve, no matter how sophisticated. And the story can get quite dense in the last 90 minutes or so, even if the writers have tried to trim it to the minimum. Having seen the movies definitely helps.

The cast do their best to pretend they feel comfortable sporting medicinal-sounding names like Boromir, Sargenor Aragorn or Legolas. Take a spoonful of Boromir once a day. I quite enjoyed James Loye’s performance as Frodo: I think he made a better job than Elijah Wood at conveying the incongruity of having a Hobbit deal with such a gigantic task.

All in all, the show is pleasurable spectacular… but they shouldn’t have let everything out of their bag of tricks by the end of the first act.

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