It all started with a simple statement scribbled across a blank
page of an examination answer-book: "In a hole in the ground
there lived a hobbit." Sixty some-odd years and several volumes
later, Middle Earth is one of the most well-known and beloved
Last year, 2005, marked the 50th anniversary of the complete
publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece. The Lord of the
a multi-volume epic that followed The Hobbit,
was first published in London in 1954, with an American edition
following in 1955. This tale of unlikely heroes has been made
into a radio play (the BBC's Third Programme aired it in 1956);
an animated film (1978); a trilogy of live-action films (2001,
2002, 2003); several video games (1985, 1990, 1992, 2000, 2002,
2003, 2004) with more being planned; and now is being made into
an ambitious live-theatre musical production.
"The responsibility is huge," says Mathew Warchus, the man
chosen to direct the stage version of The Lord of the
"but the opportunity is huge as well, because you can
do some things you always dreamed of doing on the stage."Lord of the Rings
opened at the Princess of Wales Theatre
in Toronto in February 2006, cost about $27 million (Canadian)
to produce and faced many challenges.
"People feel so strongly about Tolkien's work," Warchus says. "I
studied the books very carefully. I vowed I would not trivialize
the piece in any way, but honor it and perhaps even add
something to all the available incarnations of the story."
With so many adaptations of the work on hand, why would someone
tackle a stage production? "To read the novel is to experience
the events of Middle Earth in the mind's eye; to watch the films
is to view Middle Earth as though through a giant window. Only
in the theatre are you actually plunged into the events as they
happen," says Warchus. "The environment surrounds us. We
participate. We are in Middle Earth."
Fans who have seen the preview agree. One said, "It was unlike
reading or watching Middle Earth, it was like being there!"
The biggest question, however, was why a musical? Do we really
want Frodo to sing, orcs to dance? "We have not attempted to
pull the novel towards the standard conventions of musical
theatre," says Warchus, "but rather to expand those conventions
so that they will accommodate Tolkien's material."
There is "music virtually the whole way through," says Kevin
Wallace, producer of the show, "Like in the books, the
characters in the stage adaptation use songs that are already
part of their culture to express themselves. They do not sing as
in a traditional musical, ... but as in a culture with a strong
singing tradition, they use music as part of their everyday
The music is a collaborative composition of A.R. Rahman, a
composer from India, Värttinä, a vocal group from Finland, and
Christopher Nightengale, the show's musical supervisor. Since,
Tolkien used Finnish as a basis for Elvish, having a Finnish
group as part of the musical collaboration has given the music
for this production an authentic and unique sound.
"It's not really a musical in the tradition sense," Liam Kearns,
a fan from Vancouver who traveled to Toronto just to see the
show, told The Canadian Press.
"It's really a stage
extravaganza. There's music, but it's a dramatic play."
When rumors of this production first surfaced, there was fear
that the result would be cheesy or would stray too far from the
original work. To help keep the adaptation in line with
Tolkien's material, Laurie Battle, Head of Licensing at Tolkien
Enterprises, worked as Creative Consultant, advising the
director and producer directly, as well as pointing the way to
further research when necessary.
The effort paid off. "I highly recommend any and every Tolkien
fan to watch this production," said one fan who saw the preview.Lord of the Rings
is appropriate for children aged 8 and
older. Wallace advises, "People should use their own discretion
and bring children who are old enough to enjoy the performance."
This is especially true, since it is about three and one-half
Knowing the story and its characters isn't necessary to enjoy
the musical, according to Kearns. You can follow the story,
which takes in all three books, even if you don't know the
difference between an ent and an orc.
Previews of Lord of the Rings
started Feb. 4, 2006 and
the Gala Opening is scheduled for March 23. Toronto will be the
only place to see this production for at least nine months, when
the London production premieres later this year. And Wallace
says that Toronto will be the only place to see this musical in
North America for at least 18 months.
A Kevin Wallace Limited Production, Lord of the Rings
presented by Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz, in association with
David and Ed Mirvish and Michael Cohl. Tickets, which are $78 or
$125 (Canadian), are available at www.lotr.com
or by calling
(416) 872-1212 or (800) 461-3333.