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article imageThe Lord of the Rings: From Page to Stage

By David Silverberg     Mar 27, 2006 in Lifestyle
Digital Journal — What would J.R.R. Tolkien think of dancing Hobbits, a 40-foot-wide black spider and Elvish song lyrics?
We’ll never know but the producers of the stage musical of The Lord of the Rings hope to honour the late British author with an epic literary adaptation as close to the original text as possible. With its world premiere in Toronto on March 23 after five weeks of previews, the show is billed as the most expensive stage show in history with a $27-million budget.
The Lord of the Rings features Black Riders in half-horse half-man costumes, 17 elevators moving characters around the stage and a “Gollum very different from the film version,” says Kevin Wallace, co-producer of the show.
Much of the show’s details were withheld for years from media and the public, so when interviewed by Digital Journal before the show’s official launch, Wallace choose his words carefully when he discussed what fans can expect in Toronto. “This will lurch the audience out of their own perception of The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “We’ve taken a non-literal approach that is still respectful to Tolkien.”
Rather than trying to fit 1,000 pages into a musical, Wallace and his creative team wanted the text to speak for itself. “The story has to be told with the same intensity as classical plays,” Wallace notes.
The tone may reflect the trilogy’s gravitas, but the production will hardly be old-fashioned. With a 55-member cast and 14 musical numbers, The Lord of the Rings stretches to three hours of music, dance and massive battle scenes. The set resembles a tree trunk, with moveable parts allowing the Fellowship to traverse grassy, rocky or uphill terrain. Special effects embellish the fight scenes and creative lighting adds lustre to terrific monsters such as the winged Balrog.
As with any spectacle, the music must act as a sweeping backdrop to the action. Wallace promises “mini-symphonies” over the battle sequences, and a “fantastic number with some great percussion” when the Helm’s Deep sequence explodes on stage. Human voices are included in orchestration, Wallace says, contributed by the Finnish band Värttinä.
The standout star in the cast is Tony Award-winning Brent Carver, a Canadian theatre veteran who excels in every role he plays. Another noted actor is Michael Therriault, seen recently in The Producers in Toronto, playing the slimy Gollum in the musical.
Wallace is well aware that the public reaction will hinge on both production values and the writer’s interpretation. Unlike the film, the show will not ignore key sections of the trilogy in favour of more action-oriented scenes.
For instance, Wallace points out, the show “gives a nod to Tom Bombadil,” a minor character in the book who helped the Fellowship during their journey across Middle Earth. And when Frodo meets Faramir for the first time, the scene is undramatic, but “there’s a calm and settled beauty to the writing” the script didn’t want to omit.
Co-producer David Mirvish, famous in Toronto for staging The Producers and The Lion King, says The Lord of the Rings is the kind of story that can rally a community. “It’s about people caring for each other, all kinds of races coming together to fight evil,” he says. “The responsibility is not on the shoulders of the biggest person but on someone who represents the Everyman.”
And Toronto carries its own responsibility: To showcase a monumental theatre event the entire world will be watching.
LOTR By the Numbers
  • 14 Musical numbers in the show
  • 17 Elevators used on stage
  • 55 Actors cast
  • $90Average ticket cost
  • 934,000 Expected amount of tickets sold in a year
  • $3 million What the Ontario government and Tourism Toronto have each invested in the show
  • $27 million The show’s cost, making it the most expensive in live theatre history
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