Maybe our expectations were lowered by the barrage of bad reviews published on Friday, but colour us Elvish, because we were surprised to find how thoroughly we enjoyed Lord of the Rings last night. We should probably admit our biases up front, though. First of all, we’ve never read the books and we’ve only seen the first movie. Gasp in horror if you must, but we have no plans to change this state of affairs. Second of all, we love musicals. We really love musicals. We especially love when musicals are fashioned from obviously inappropriate source material. In truth, we were secretly hoping for tap dancing orcs (don’t worry, there are no tap dancing orcs – damnit!). Finally, we are a sucker for a good wind machine effect. So we may, in fact, be the ideal audience for this spectacle – unconcerned with the purity of the adaptation and just out for a good time.
And a good time is there for the having, despite what all the mean old critics are saying (frankly, we’re not convinced that they didn’t all go in determined to hate the show in the first place). It’s sweet and likeable before the curtain even comes up, with Hobbits racing around chasing fireflies and dancing as the audience finds their seats. Sure, Lord of the Rings is not a perfect show by any means. We can’t comment on how faithfully the story was adapted, but it isn’t difficult to follow for us Middle-earth virgins. The main focus is on the friendship between Frodo (James Loy) and Sam (Peter Howe), a wise decision on the part of the writers as it gives the show a solid heart, though at the expense of anyone else’s character development (the love story between Arwen and Aragorn is perfunctory at best, and Eowyn’s appearance is little more than a cameo). The actors playing the hobbits are charming and likeable in their roles, and admirably tackle the difficult task of not being Elijah Wood and Sean Astin. The rest of the cast is quite good as well. The major disappointment is Brent Carver as Gandalf – he’s just too subtle an actor to pull off such an archetypal role, and he just isn’t believable as a great and terrible wizard, especially when he’s up against Richard MacMillan’s awesome performance as Sarumen. Michael Therriault’s writhing Gollum is another stand out performance.
Technically, the show is undeniably spectacular. The revolving stage is made up of at least sixteen pieces that can be raised and lowered independently of one another in order to create all manner of landscapes. The lighting is spectacular, and there’s an appearance by a giant spider that is worthy of Julie Taymor. The acrobatic-fuelled battle scenes are impressive, though they occasionally drag a little (and once or twice lapse into a ridiculous bit of choreography – orcs pelvic thrusting? Really?), but most eye-popping of all are the first and second act finales. Director Matthew Warchus sure does know how to stage a climactic cliff-hanger!
Cheesy and overwrought? Yes. But it’s a musical, and it’s Lord of the Rings – cheesy and overwrought are what it’s all about!