Lord of the Rings Live on Stage: The Verdicts
The long awaited live stage version of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, presented by the Saul Zaentz Company, opened last night at Toronto's historic Princess of Wales Theatre, dear Mortals --- and apparently, the verdicts are in. Your Dragonmaster will now attempt to share some of those verdicts with you, followed by my responses to same. Pray, let us have @ it!
From CTV.ca, via the Canadian Press:
"Clocking in at a hefty 3 1/2 hours (with 2 brief intermissions), the epic fantasy is full of energy and wonder. Yes, plot and character development are compressed, but the production's sensory-stimulating sound and light show is easily the match of those digital effects that set Peter Jackson's film versions apart. And it easily surpasses the dazzle that has become the trademark of Cirque du Soleil's performances. There's not a weak link in all the elements --- sound, music, lighting, costumes. The acting can be stentorian at times, but it seems in keeping with the nature of the original dialogue.
"In perhaps the production's most memorable moment, Gandalf the Grey's apparent demise as the Balrog breathes its evil fire, clouds of smoke and debris are blown through the theater covering the seats and aisles. And in Aragorn's Coronation and Wedding, colorful petals fall from the ceiling --- all of which must require a massive clean-up session at the end of every performance.
"Still, it all hinges on the cast: Michael Therriault, recently seen as 'T.C. Douglas' in the TV movie Prairie Giant, plays Gollum as an appropriately repulsive, tortured creature who pops up from all corners of the stage, and even once from a side balcony. Brent Carver is noble as Gandalf; Evan Buliung is a hunky Aragorn. Just as impressive are Jim Loye as the courageous Frodo and Peter Howe as loyal Samwise. Providing the required comic interludes are Dylan Roberts and Owen Sharpe as Merry and Pippin, respectively. On the villainous side of things, Richard McMillan is perfectly inscrutable as bald-headed wizard Saruman.
"In all, the sum of the parts creates a suitably fevered dream."
From Tony Brown, the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"With a $23 million budget, a cast of 55, a 3-hour-45-minute running time, and special effects raining down from the ceiling, the new musical version of J.R.R. Toliien's trilogy is expensively, lengthily, and unspectacularly dull, dull and dull. So just how was a Broadway show supposed to improve or take a new angle on the story? Or is the whole megillah an expensive way to draw the tourists (U.S. residents account for nearly a quarter of the preview audiences) back to Toronto, which hasn't been the same since 9/11 and the SARS scare? If co-author/director Matthew Warchus and his team had any idea, it doesn't manifest itself.
"It's all supposed to add up, one imagines, to a theatrical experience for the Xbox generation. But it has all the thrills of a Ms. Pac-Man tournament."
From Ben Brantley, The New York Times:
"Toronto: 'This place is too dim and tree-ish for me,' mutters Pippin, groping through a shadowy forest in the second act of the very expensive, largely incomprehensible musical version of The Lord of the Rings, which opened Thursday at the Princess of Wales Theatre here. You speak not the half of it, O cherub-cheeked lad of Middle-earth. The production in which you exist so perilouslly is indeed a murky, labyrinthine wood from which no one can emerge with head unmuddled, eyes unblurred, or eardrums unrattled. Everyone and everything winds up lost in this $25 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's cult-inspiring trilogy of fantasy novels. That includes plot, charcter and the patience of most ordinary theatergoers.
"Presumably, there is a contingent out there that will regard this curiously homespun-feeling behemoth as a sort of sacred ritual. Indeed, perhaps the sanest approach to this production is to look upon it as an arcane religious pageant that can be fully appreciated only by the initiated. That would be those familiar enough with the source material (preferably to the point of being fluent in Elvish) to understand the totemic signficance of the amorphous shapes that pass through an eternal, vision-taxing twilight, murmuring dialogue that, when intelligible, brings to mind vintage Prince Valiant comic strips."
From Martin F. Kohn, the Detroit Free Press
"Attention, Ontario --- resume breathing! That show you've been counting on to bring in the tourists? It just might do the trick!
"The most expensive stage show in history (over $23 million, U.S.), the musical version of Tolkien's Lord of the RIngs began its World Premiere Engagement at the Princess of Wales Theater right on schedule. 7 weeks ago, technical glitches made the first preview clock in at around 5 hours. These days, LOTR runs 3 hours and 50 minutes, wit h2 intermissions and one song right after the curtain call. It may not be the 3 hours, 30 minutes that producer Kevin Wallace envisioned, but it doesn't feel overlong.
"The show will only run in Toronto until at least 2007; the next production would be in London. Any New York production won't take place until 2008. For Detroiters, is it worth the 4 1/2-hour drive AND tickets that top out at $107(U.S.)?
"It is. There's even more good news: the local tourism association and the Province of Ontario are among the show's backers. While some performances may be sold out, under an agreement between the show's producers and Tourism Toronto, 200 tickets for each performance at the 2000-seat Princess of Wales are set aside for out-of-towners. So if you call for tickets and you're told that none are available, ask for the Tourism Toronto seats. You may be in luck.
"Frodo lives. So do Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn/Strider, Arwen, Gollum, and a whole raft's worth of orcs, ents, elves and hobbits --- in a show that's lively, lavish and, though really not for kids per se, the most family-friendly theatrical event since The Lion King."
From Jack Boland, the Toronto Sun:
"Welcome to Hobbit-town. The Princess of Wales Theatre was the center of the universe --- make that Middle-earth --- last night with the unveiling of the Saul Zaentz Company's stage adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The much anticiapted $27 million [Canadian] epic quest opened in Toronto as the black-tie set Hobbit-knobbed with Frodo, Gandalf, Samwise, Aragorn, Gollum and the occasional orc.
"Prior to the show, Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page was a bit skeptical, and recalled reading the book in fifth-grade. 'It was just a bit too much for me at the time,' he said, mimicking a deadpan look. But after the show, Page had, so to speak, turned a page.
" 'I didn't know what to expect. It was world class. There was some great, adventurous staging done,' he said. 'I've seen plays on London's West End, and on Broadway in New York, and each time, I've been disappointed. But I wasn't with this.' "
And from the same paper's John Coulbourn:
"For all its limitations, much is impressive in this unprecedented stage version of Lord of the Rings, not the least of which is the devotion with which adaptors Sean McKenna and Matthew Warchus (who also directs) claeve to the beloved Tolkien trilogy.
"This show is everything they've promised it would be --- and, somehow, just a little bit less, for, in the end, it finally falls victim to its own hype. Having promised the world something akin to an explosive theatrcial union between Shakespeare and Cirque du Soleil, what they deliver instead is a rather well-behaved child of a merger between Tolkien and The Lion King, with more than just a hint or two of Slava's Snowshow thrown in for good measure."
From Charles Spencer, the London Daily Telegraph:
"Like the evil Sauron, this production has plans for world domination, and is due in London next spring. Tolkien's fans may ensure its survivial, but I have a hunch that most will find it far from Hobbit-forming --- and emerge as bored of the Rings as I was."
And lastly, from Time Magazine's Richard Corliss:
"At one point, Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit whose accidental custodianship of the One Ring of Power led to the War of Middle-earth, plaintively asks, 'Don't adventures ever have an end?' For producer Kevin Wallace, director/co-adapter Matthew Warchus and their team, the answer is; not this one, not yet. They're planning a London opening of LOTR a year from now, then Berlin or Hamburg, then maybe Broadway in 2008. (Contract that Wallce has signed with his Canadian co-backers require that Toronto be the show's only North American venue for at least 18 months.) But says co-adapter Sean McKenna, 'this isn't a tryout, it's the real thing.'
"He's right: if this isn't quite the One Ring to rule them all, at least it's the real Middle-earth deal. Against odds that would make even Aragorn wince, this Fellowship of the Ring has staged a definitive megamusiccal, nearly 350 miles or so north of Times Square. For now, Broadway is off-Toronto."
So there you are, Mortals. Those are some of the responses that even now continue to come in regarding The Lord of the Rings --- Live on Stage! By Merlin's beard, DO NOT let any of those icky-poo negative reviews dissuade you! The money is all up there on that stage, I promise you! You might have to clean yourself off afterwards, to be certain, but believe me, Mortals --- this is ONE show that is most certainly worth the adventure!
So swears Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, Duke of Talisker!