When it premiered in Toronto last year, the critics panned it. Apparently, a reviewer from the New York Times dismissed it as "larely incomprehensible" whilst the Toronto Star headlined its review “Why we’re bored of The Rings”.
It wasn't as terrible as I expected it to be. In fact, it's not even as bad as what the reviews say. Sure there are flaws. I saw a preview performance, remember? The show doesn't officially open until June 19th, so I expect some changes will be made before that.
People who saw and will see the show will most likely remember the production's sights rather than its sounds. The stage revolves 360 degrees clockwise or counter-clockwise, sometimes at the same time. It has sections that rise and lower to create ramps, mounds, cliffs and gullies as the action goes on. The lights design and special effects are very impressive.
In the opening scene, Bilbo is seen in the middle of the stage making his speech about his retirement. When it was time for him to say goodbye, he slipped the ring onto his finger and vanished right before our eyes. I was very impressed. Another impressive scene is Gandalf's confrontation with Balrog in the mines. The clever use of lights, shadows, wind, confetti and a gigantic red eyed monster made the scene rather spectacular.
Kudos to the costume designer for the wonderful costume pieces. I especially like The Dark Riders and the Ents garb. How they were designed to enhance the actors movements when they moved made the characters really believable.
I was a little disappointed by the actors. I found most performances flat. Especially that of Gandalf. It was weak and whenever he says something, I begin to feel sleepy. The actor who played Aragorn didn't deliver as well. He lacked presence and didn't appear or sound convincing at all to be the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Gondor. Also, the love story between him and Arwen wasn't believable. In the end, this part of the story felt like a just scene filler. Used only to make the show even longer. Such a shame because Arwen has a good voice.
If there's an award for the best actor in this production, Gollum will win hands down. He first appeared in the beginning of Act II. And what an entrance! Look at the picture of the stage, Gollum climbed down head first from the left top corner of the stage. And when he reached the floor, he stood up and walked. I was watching him like a hawk, expecting him to release himself from wires (discreetly of course) but I didn't notice anything. He just walked. Until now, I'm still in awe! Distant second are Merrie and Pippen who were actually funny, sometimes. They elicited most of the show's few laughs.
The songs are okay, except for one. The road goes on, sung by Frodo and Sam, I think is the best song in the bunch. It's lovely! The melody is great. It talked about the hobbits' adventures and friendship. The show only featured a few scenes about Sam and Frodo's friendship so when they sang this song it was really wonderful. The actors' voices blended beautifully.
(The London version of this song is slightly longer.)
The Battle of Helm's Deep was good. The choreography, I think is very inspired. The elves were holding a some sort of a stick with a green cloth (Symblosing the Ents. Very clever!), using it as a weapon to fight the orcs.
There are sub-plots from the books and the films that didn't make it on stage, which is understandable. Yet despite the cuts, the show still lasted for a little over three hours. I'm going to be honest by saying that there are parts that really dragged and bored me. The show was divided into three acts. My favorite is the second act because it didn't feel rushed and because Lothlorien's just beautiful. The ending, however, is a bit of a downer. I was expecting a big finale, which the production failed to deliver.
Will I recommend this show for people to see? Absolutely! Because despite its flaws, it was still one helluva theatre experience.