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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Lord of the Rings
Drury Lane Theatre      2007 - 2008

This musical staging of the trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien (whose name, incidentally, appears in only the tiniest of tiny print in the programme) is likely to please some, but they will have to be both ardent fans of the books and movies and also very easily impressed by some not-particularly-innovative stage spectacle.

For those who don't know, a very brief synopsis: in a kind of fairy tale world a young hobbit (a sort of gnome) must destroy a magic ring before the powers of evil get it. This takes him on an epic journey and encounters with elves, dwarves, wizards and various monsters and villains.

Inevitably, the condensation of three volumes, even into a three-hour show, means a crammer-notes race through the plot, and it is to the credit of book writers Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus that, after a false start in Toronto last year, they do manage to keep the story pretty clear.

On the other hand, the songs - music by A. R. Rahman and the Finnish folk group Varttina - are totally undistinguished and leave no impression whatever, even while you're hearing them.

No, whatever strength the show has must lie in the performances and the bits of character and humanity the actors are able to slip in while rushing about, and in the staging effects.

The second is particularly disappointing, given the unprecedented budget figures that have been bandied about. There's a bit of aerial ballet, a couple of impressive people-on-stilts monsters, and one clever vanishing trick.

But most of the staging builds on an ordinary turntable whose pie wedges can rise and fall separately, so that climbing a mountain, for example, can be done with some walking in place.

It might be impressive the first time, if you haven't seen much the same thing in other shows, but it is relied on far too much.

Meanwhile, choreographer Peter Darling's contribution consists primarily of staging rhythmic ways of supposedly travelling over long distances and hand-to-hand battle scenes that are elaborations on the kind of banner-waving and rushing about that the RSC perfected for Shakespearean battles decades ago.

Darling does have one colourful set piece, a dance at an inn that generates some Broadway-style energy while wittily quoting Broadway legends Michael Kidd and Tommy Tune.

As Frodo (I'm going to assume you know these characters - if you don't, explaining won't help), James Loye nicely captures a sense of an attractive hero-in-the-making, while Peter Howe gives solid support as his buddy Sam.

Malcolm Storry's job as Gandalf amounts to little more than delivering reams of exposition and back-story every time he appears, and Michael Therriault slithers and shlurps his way through Gollum as the fans expect.

Anyone writing this script from scratch might have decided that one elfin princess was enough, but Tolkien provided two, and Rosalie Craig and Laura Michelle Kelly make them indistinguishable and interchangeable. Also difficult to tell apart are the various human and elfin generals who join in the fight against evil.

The musical does tell the story fairly coherently, provides some pretty pictures and generates some sense of an epic journey, and for that the writers and director Matthew Warchus are to be credited.

That may be all that the fans want, and the absence of good songs, strong choreography or much real wit or invention in the staging may not bother them.

But you can get what's good about this musical elsewhere, along with everything it lacks. Generically, Lord of the Rings could be classed with Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, but it is totally outclassed by them.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Lord Of The Rings - Drury Lane Theatre 2007