Flashback Friday: ‘The Lord of the Rings’ musical brought the magic of Tolkien to the stage

Merry and Pippin meet the Ents in "The Lord of the Rings."

Merry and Pippin meet the Ents in “The Lord of the Rings.”

Many are familiar with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but perhaps not like this. Opening in London in 2007, the musical production of the epic fantasy novel became one of the most expensive musicals on the West End, and it ran until 19 July 2008.

It is difficult to imagine how Tolkien’s three volume novel could be condensed for the stage; however, it definitely worked. Despite its mixed reviews, The Lord of the Rings was a hit with audience members of all ages, even Tolkien’s granddaughter herself; a reflection of the universal nature of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing.

Originally, the show opened in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It featured 65 actors, and ran for around three and a half hours – for such an energetic and fast-paced show, one must imagine that the actors’ stamina was incredible. After its Toronto world premiere, the production then moved to London, where fine-tuning and shortening took place during its six weeks of previews.

The atmosphere of the production was created right from the start, and the barrier between actor and audience was consistently broken. The Shire was recreated with Hobbits running through the audience, and after the Entr’acte, Orcs chillingly stalked their way through the stalls.

As a huge fan of both Tolkien and theatre, I was almost certain that I would fall head over heels in love with this musical. What particularly impressed me was the use of costuming, and how Rob Howell’s designs were completely original, instead of taking the safe route of imitating those used in Peter Jackson’s famous film trilogy. Most impressive is perhaps Galadriel’s costume, which is best described as an elegant golden frenzy, illuminating her as the fairest of all elves.

Rob Howell also brought the visual beauty of Middle-earth to his sets, with a moving stage and towering, ethereal sets. Actors often became part of this, with intense choreography and circus-style tricks being incorporated into the show.

Many of the lyrical elements for the songs were drawn from Tolkien’s actual works, with “The Song of Hope” including lyrics in Elvish. Another song, the touching duet between Frodo and Sam “Now and For Always,” was based upon one of the pair’s conversations in The Two Towers. This use of Tolkien’s writing was an impressive tribute to the writer, and pleasing to those who were already familiar with the story. The music itself is a mix of varying styles, from traditional musical theatre to haunting chants, and it fits Tolkien’s world perfectly.

After closing in 2008, talk of international and touring productions have long been in the works, and are eagerly awaited by fans. Would you want to see Lord of the Rings onstage once again?

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  1. I saw the musical in its second, slightly shorter version in Toronto and I’d definitely like to see it again. Costume, stage tech and some of the songs where very entertaining, indeed, although as a hardcore Tolkien fan you really won’t find anything of the story in there :)

    I’ve really enjoyed it as a musical, though, and I’d be happy to have it again. There were talks of bringing it to my hometown of Cologne but those never materialised. Pty!