THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Shaun McKenna, Matthew Warchus, A.R. Rahman, Vrttin and Christopher Nightingale, directed by Warchus (Wallace/Zaentz/Mirvish/Cohl). At the Princess of Wales (300 King West). Indefinite run. $56-$125. See Continuing, page 89. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Lord Of The Rings is a glistening spectacle, a production that offers lots of fireworks but doesn't, like many mega-musicals, settle for pricey packaging at the expense of heart.
The show isn't a musical in the traditional sense. There are songs and dances (some striking choreography by Peter Darling ) such as the charming Down East-style number that opens the show, a travelling song and a tavern celebration.
But much of the music by A.R. Rahman , V'rttin' and Christopher Nightingale is an inventive soundscape, part Celtic harp-and-fiddle, part Bulgarian female chorus and part Eastern chant.
Too bad the ballads, and their bland lyrics, are mostly tepid.
The "mega" part is apparent from the start, a striking three-minute shadow-play summary of The Hobbit. Later, there are two battles: an acrobatic confrontation at Helm's Deep, the good guys against Orcs, whose movements combine stilts and springs viscerally; and a stylized final conflict that could feel more apocalyptic.
Rob Howell 's set and costumes and Paul Pyant 's lighting create different worlds for hobbits, elves, dwarves, humans and others. The amazing combination of turntables and elevators a potential electronic nightmare allows the stage to morph into limitless shapes and levels.
Even so, some episodes among them the great council at Rivendell and the scenes at Mount Doom lack vital drama, and there are borrowings from other shows. Gandalf's battle with the fiery Balrog takes a page from Slava's Snow Show, while the Orcs are reminiscent of The Lion King's hyenas.
Of necessity, the near-four-hour adaptation by Shaun McKenna and director Matthew Warchus is a slimming down of the book's monumental narrative. Most of Tolkien's characters appear, but some have little function but to move the plot along.
That's not the fault of actors Dion Johnstone (Boromir), Kerry Dorey (Théoden), Victor A. Young (Elrond) and others; there's so much story to tell that these figures aren't much developed. That packed narrative, pitting friendship and trust against the temptation of power, also means there's little time for some quiet, reflective moments.
Thankfully, other characters create strong and believable emotional relationships, notably that between James Loye 's Frodo and Peter Howe 's Sam. There's splendid work by Michael Therriault as the twitchy, schizophrenic Gollum, covered with ulcers and seemingly eaten away by desire, whose tendencies vacillate between his instinct for humanity and a terrible greed inspired by the ring.
As Pippin and Merry, Owen Sharpe and Dylan Roberts provide some of the work's comedy, while Carly Street and Evan Buliung develop a yearning romance as Arwen and Aragorn.
There's also impressive work by Richard McMillan as the wily Saruman, Cliff Saunders as Bilbo, Rebecca Jackson Mendoza as the gift-giving Galadriel and, in a smaller role, Ayrin Mackie 's woman warrior Eowyn.
Brent Carver 's a fine actor, one of Canada's best, but he has trouble bringing definition and weight to the wizard Gandalf.
Still, despite its flaws, expect this Lord to settle in for a lengthy reign at the Princess of Wales .