Parting with the LOTR musical

“Sing me a story of Frodo and the ring …”

Yes, this is it. Today was the final performance of the world premiere of the LOTR Musical here in Toronto. There was a feeling of sad acceptance at this parting of ways. It’s a shame the theatre-goers in this area let the critics make up their mind for them instead of actually using their own judgment. We had a glorious opportunity to premiere this musical with the glow it deserved but instead, we did what Canadians always seem to do. Shun their own wonders until they’ve been lauded by the world. Then we turn around ever so proudly and admire them. There, I’ve said it.

The only other thing to say is don’t let people who go to shows with their minds already made up, make yours up for you (that would be the esteemed critics *shudder*). They set themselves up to hate this production because anything that is hyped – I dare say anything right now that has the audacity to be associated with LOTR – and has a chance of mainstream acceptance is fodder for their fury. This production frightened me from the word “go” because of all the fuss being made about it. I had two thoughts. Thought one was that that no one could capture the essence of the book in a 3-, 4- or 6-hour musical. Thought two was that the hype before would create hatred after.

Do you think “hatred” is too strong a word? I don’t know. When I read the reviews, they were quite stinging.

I had the same feeling about the musical that I had about the movie. It will never work. I tried to keep my mind open when I went to a preview show. I wanted to at least try to accept whatever Warchus and Wallace threw at me. They had three things that warmed me up, A.R. Rahman, Finnish music and Brent Carver. I thought I might end up liking it but that I’d still be underwhelmed. That’s not what happened at all.

It was a marvel. A little bumpy, without doubt but still, technically, musically and story-wise, it was beautiful. I wanted with all my heart for the musical to succeed because it captured the essence of the story more truly for me than the movies.

I went to the last performance today unsure what to expect. I went yesterday with the smial and we loved it. I have to say that I was really disappointed with the crowd though. They seemed so stiff and serious. No one really clapped and the theatre did not give the cast a standing ovation. I felt badly about that because when I’ve attended other closing plays, there would be ovations during the last few performances. So, I was afraid that the cast would not get the good-bye they deserve. Again, happily, I was wrong.

The audience was very responsive to the characters and the musical and the cast. The movies no longer make me emotional. True, watching something 6000 times will probably make you insensitive but there are a lot of people who have done the same and still get emotional. However, at each show I’ve attended, I’ve been emotional. I certainly was today.

The one thing that stands out so brilliantly is Brent Carver. Today he approached magnificence. Where was this all the time my friend? His Gandalf has been the one constantly annoying thing in each play. Too rushed, too flighty, too nervous, as if Gandalf is high-strung and can’t take the pressure. But today, his lines were slowed to an almost normal pace and delivered with emotion and strength. What a difference between yesterday and today! I wish he had started with this Gandalf and improved on him – it would have been a play of special magnificence. 😉

Galadriel was incredible, singing her heart out. I felt her loss and her sorrow that the dream, the “child of her heart,” Lothlórien, would be lost. I cried a bit there. I also cried because I love that part of the musical most and I felt like I was losing its beauty forever.

The Witch-king lost his voice yesterday, by which I mean he had no microphone and sound effect. It is a true testament of the actor’s ability that we were able to hear him and the power in his voice, albeit diminished. Today, that was resolved and you got the echo and amped voice sneering most pleasingly at Gandalf.

I’ve seen this production four times and each time has been different. I rather like that. One thing I miss is that Paths of the Dead scene; I wish they would put it back in. I loved that scene. It was so weirdly effective with its purple and green lighting, with strobes and that shimmery stuff on stage. I know it probably didn’t work well in the story, but it’s such a great scene. And, ok I’ll admit it, it’s mostly the music that I love there. I can hear Rahman in that scene. There was a male voice over the music and it had such an Indian/Arabian feel to it.

Gollum was wonderful – as he always is. A crowd favourite. And Saruman was magnificent. He is one of my favourites in the musical. After the destruction of the Ring, the scene with Gandalf, Frodo and Sam was much more emotional today. Gandalf was so gentle – it was lovely. And something about the Council scene was better today. I can’t put my finger on it, but it was much more engaging than yesterday.

I maintain that the production is a technical marvel. That includes the actors because many of them have to have acrobatic skills to deal with their costumes and the stage itself. For me, it’s one of those musicals that raises the bar in the theatre experience. It’s doing something different, something not done before. One critic’s problem was that you couldn’t sing the songs like in Lion King. This musical makes the music part of the climate of the story, it’s thematic. And, hey, I’ve been singing a couple of the songs. They aren’t Hakuna Matata (which to me is one of the most annoying songs on earth); they are nicer to sing and feel much less plastic than Disney fare.

I’ve been going to the theatre since I was a child. Heck, we’ve seen more plays and musicals this year than a lot of people see in a decade. I’m not just a Tolkien fan or geek; I love theatre. Good theatre. And this, my friends, is it. You know what? It’s not perfect, I’ll grant that. It’s not perfectly polished up, like Phantom or Les Mis or another play of that ilk. Yet, it is still a musical that compares musically, thematically and visually and holds its own. It stumbles a little on the emotional factor and I think that, in time, it will find its bearing. I noticed something today, which they will hopefully notice soon. They have sacrificed some emotional moments for a dramatic effect. One example is that they end the first Act with the Balrog but never really deal with the emotional loss of Gandalf. Indeed you never really feel attached to Gandalf because he doesn’t seem attached to the Hobbits.

There is also the abandoning of Merry and Pippin to their fate – that doesn’t seem like the action of friends. Aragorn says earlier that they are a fellowship and their strength is their solidarity but then he chooses to leave them and go to Rohan and Gondor. So, Merry and Pippin actually feel a bit cut off from everything else in the story and you don’t feel too much emotion for them.

Aragorn’s character is a little problematic for me because it’s too close to movie-Aragorn. I think he should be a bit more kingly, recognized as such at the Council, and that should be the tension between he and Boromir. Then Boromir’s death scene should have a more emotional impact.

Gandalf needs to be a more emotional character because it’s his great love that is his strength. That is one of the things missing from the Rohan scene. Aragorn “wakes up” Theoden but no one knows why he’s been asleep in the first place. Wormtongue is really needed to create a little tension there. And Gandalf. Here again. Dramatic effect over emotion. It’s more dramatic to have him reappear at Helm’s Deep than be present with Theoden. Okaaay. I still think they should have Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli look for the Hobbits and meet Gandalf. Maybe he can charge them with “waking up” Theoden and then he doesn’t have to be there. But he should also meet the two Hobbits in Fangorn and converse with the Ents about going to Helms Deep after Isengard. That draws that part back into the flow of the story and establishes some more emotional links. Then he can still do the dramatic appearance at Helms Deep, which is a great moment.

I’m not trying to re-write the play here; I’m just trying to show that they still have room to work on it. Especially if they cut that Bree scene short. It doesn’t establish or move anything along. It’s just too much of the bench-dancing stuff. Cut it in half and use the time elsewhere.

Oy, I have too much to say about this. Let me cut it short and say that I drank it all in. We may see it return but it will not be this musical we saw today, this cast and crew. They gave us their hearts in this production. Was it too much to ask that we accept their offering? I’m so disappointed. We could have accepted the musical with its flaws and allowed it to get better and better, right here.

I know they will never hear me, but thank you to everyone who brought this to us. We can all acknowledge that it wasn’t perfect, but I don’t feel it had to be. I was happy to watch it change. Each time I went to see it, it was better. I hope you all tear it up in London. This is a production that deserves to succeed.

Hehe, if you’re still here, have a cup of tea on me. Thanks for sticking around. I’ll have more to say later but please leave your thoughts and talking points!

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One thought on “Parting with the LOTR musical

  1. Frodo-lass says:

    Yay, where’s my cup o’ tea?? Oh wait, do I have to leave talking points now?

    A Gandalf that spoke at a normal pace?? I would have loved to see that. At the last show, did Gollum sort of hop, skip, and jump into the crack of doom?

    For me, the main issue was the direction. If the director had told Gandalf to form a connection with the Hobbits, or if Aragorn felt the least bit sad about leaving Merry and Pippin with the Uruks, or if you actually got to see Eowyn fighting the Witch King to save Theoden (you never really got that idea in the play, or that Eowyn wasn’t suppose to be on Pelennor) and the list goes on and on, maybe the musical would have been better overall.

    If the PJ movies had not come out and there had been no fan uproar at the lack of the scouring of the shire in the film, I know, I KNOW, that the scene would have been cut from the film too. If they were going to put it back in the musical, I wish they would have given it the time and effort it deserved. I felt like I blinked and yawned and the sequence was over and I wouldn’t have even known it because nothing plot-wise had been affected.

    I felt like there was a connection between the musical and its audience but the audience couldn’t bring themselves to care about the characters (I don’t know if what I said is even possible…). I love Frodo in all his incarnations, but I finally got to see, and unfortunately understand, why most people say that all he basically does is whine and fall down.

    But despite all that, I DO like the musical. I hope it comes back once it’s a runaway hit in London.

    Maybe the cast had spent so long learning the Bree scene that they were all loath to cut it. Hmm.. ponder, ponder.

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