A fan’s review of the London Lord of the Rings musical

You can’t squeeze a book the size of the Lord of the Rings into a 3 hour musical and satisfy either the hard core fans or those new to the story. But, I think they did a great job regardless. The pace is breath taking, but the core of the story comes through. The music suited the mood well enough and the staging and the solutions to bring much loved characters to life worked brilliantly. The hobbits came on stage while the audience was still coming in, and performed a little skit about catching fireflies, which was very endearing, and morphed into a song which without further fuss opened the musical.

Spoilers ahead!

The toughest characters to portray well were fantastic. Gollum was a writhing, menacing, wretched little creature. The dark riders were a marvel, scary and imposing. They were created by an actor on stilts, with the body and head of the horse supported by a pole that the actor manipulated, which was at square angles to the stilts. The ents you can’t really do on stage, but the solution to put the actors on stilts resulted in dignified beings with booming voices. Shelob was truly terrifying and the audience’s reaction was a pleasure to behold. The effect was created by several actors in dark outfits who worked the legs and the body – in much the same was as the Treebeard puppet was made to move in Peter Jackson’s movie. With the dark stage, all you initially saw were the long legs, advancing on poor Frodo.

Which brings me to the parts that didn’t work so well. With little time to develop character or portray favorite scenes from the book, many characters were pale shadows of themselves, or wholly missing. For me the main disappointments were Aragorn and Gimli. Aragorn was too theatrical, with too little heart. However, his scene with dying Boromir was very moving, and the scene in front of the gates of Mordor where he gives a passionate speech to his fellow men in arms was thrilling. Gimli was cast based on his short stature and the actor’s voice had too high a pitch – but John Rhys Davis is a tough act to follow. Gandalf, Sam, the other hobbits and Galadriel all moved me well enough.

For a musical there wasn’t actually that much music, beyond the music that set the mood in the background – no doubt the result of cutting 40 minutes of the length. Even then, I slightly resented the moments when characters burst out into song, unless it was appropriate to the story (e.g. singing at the Prancing Pony). Musicals aren’t really my thing, though, so others may feel wholly different on this. Also, the three different types of music didn’t always interact harmoniously. Varttina’s music was mostly used for ominous parts and the evil characters. The hobbit-y music and elvish music were very different from each other and from Varttina’s, which in itself was fine, but the transition from one to the other was sometimes jarring.

So what was in and what was out? Highlight to read on!

Tom Bombadil was out, which is no surprise. Rohan and the characters of the Golden Hall, along with the battle of Helm’s Deep and the love story between Eowyn and Faramir were completely cut. However, Boromir looked more like Eomer, complete with long, blond hair, and Denethor’s failing health and subsequent resurrection by Gandalf reflected more Theoden than the Denethor of the books. Wormtongue and Theodred weren’t included either. Pippin and Merry’s journeys are very much pruned: Pippin doesn’t look into the Palantir (in fact Palantirs are not even mentioned), neither pledges alliegence their chosen kings, and their role in the destruction of Orthanc is hardly mentioned. Scouring of the Shire was gone, although the Shire had been badly spoiled by Saruman’s passing by and Sam got to use his gift from Galadriel. And, Saruman lives! There’s a confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman earlier, after which Saruman is allowed to leave. Later, on the hobbit’s return to the Shire, there are two lines about Saruman having passed that way and being of no further harm to anyone.

Passing mention is made of the evolution of Gimli and Legolas’s relationship from antagonism to friendship. Faramir is a minor side character (blink and you’ll miss him), which means that the meeting of Frodo, Sam and Faramir never takes place. Celeborn I either missed completely or wasn’t there. Also, Gimli’s love of Galadriel gets a short nod. Frodo is stabbed in the Prancing Pony, not Weathertop.

We do have the long awaited party, Gandalf and Saruman scene in Orthanc where Saruman’s treachery is revealed, and a few times where Bilbo and Frodo disappear when they put on the ring (the first time, when Bilbo uses the ring at his party was so well done, that I don’t know to this day how they did it!). Moria and Balrog’s battle with Gandalf were well done, except that the face of the Balrog creature looks silly.

Arwen and Aragorn’s story is fairly well developed, which is why the fact that Arwen wasn’t part of Aragorn’s coronation was so shocking. They do share a moment and a kiss earlier on, and also during the end when the actors come to bow to the audience.

All in all, I was delighted with the musical, cuts and all. If you do have a chance to see it, I can highly recommend it!