Saw The Lord of the Rings musical courtesy of work and the producers. It’s not really fair to call it a musical as it barely contains more songs than the books do, though the fight scenes are superbly choreographed to music. The producers prefer the term ‘spectacle’ and it fits that label very well. The design element is superb – Black Riders, Ents, Shelob, the Balrog are all achieved on stage in innovative but effective ways that you probably wouldn’t imagine. The use of crutches and prosthetics to distinguish the orcs may not be very politically correct but it does convey the twisted and deformed nature of their creation.
It’s quite long but still has to compress the story somewhat. The first act follows the first book reasonably closely (no Tom Bombardil, though he does get namechecked at the end, no Barrow Wights, no Glorfindel, and the Nazgul attacks on the Prancing Pony and Weathertop are combined), but after the interval things start to diverge rather more. I was starting to get suspicious when Boromir kept on talking about “The Kingdom of Men” rather than Gondor and it turned out that they had indeed combined Rohan and Gondor – and hence Theoden and Denethor, and Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields. Whilst this moved the plot along quite quickly it removed some of the subtlety from the story and a lot of “fan favourite” characters and scenes – no Eomer, no Eowyn, no Faramir, no Palantír, no Wormtongue, no Paths of the Dead, no Witch King. On the plus side they do, briefly, include the Scouring of the Shire.
The performances ranged from the very good to the very camp but even Malcolm Storry as an excellent Gandalf suffers somewhat in comparison with Ian McKellan in the films. In fact the hardest thing to keep in mind when reviewing or just watching the stage version is that it’s an independent adaptation of the book not the film. It aims for a very different feel – more mythic, more rooted in fairy tales, rather than the “realistic” fantasy of the films. In this sense it’s perhaps a little truer to the spirit of Tolkein even if it taks much bigger liberties with his story.