By Thomas Wagner
"The Lord of the Rings" musical, the most expensive production in West End history, opened to mixed reviews, with some critics praising it as brilliant and others calling it corny and "a thumping great flop."
The stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy saga officially opened Tuesday night at London's Theatre Royal, with actors dressed as hobbits, elves and dwarfs, and pyrotechnics, special effects and a revolving stage aimed at recreating Middle Earth.
The $25 million show based on Tolkien's literary trilogy about a Hobbit named Frodo and his quest to rid Middle Earth of evil, has been trimmed and reworked since its Toronto premiere, which also earned mixed reviews.
The Toronto Star had renamed it "Bored Of The Rings," while Variety called it "a saga of short people burdened by power jewelry." But the London show won praise from some.
The Times called director Matthew Warchus' West End production a "wonder" and "a brave, stirring, epic piece of popular theater" complete with "charm, wit and jaw-dropping theatrical brio."
The Guardian said, "If Tolkien's trilogy is to be a stage spectacle, I don't see how it could be better done." It also praised the acting of Malcolm Storry as Gandalf, Brian Protheroe as Saruman and Andrew Jarvis as Elrond, "whose kingly voice resonates like thunder."
Actress Dame Judi Dench, who attended the premiere with other celebrities such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kevin Spacey, said: "For anyone who is a Tolkien fan, it is just a terrific treat. I have never seen the films, but I am a great fan of Tolkien's writing. It has wonderful choreography and the cast worked so hard."
But some critics did not like the three-hour musical by producer Kevin Wallace.
Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph said that Michael Therriault's "charismatic and creepy" performance as Gollum was admirable, along with performances by Frodo and Sam. But his 14-year-old son hated the show, even though he's an avid fan of Peter Jackson, director of the Oscar-winning films.
"Its run, I fear, will be nasty, brutish and short," Spencer concluded.
The Independent called it an "inadequate Tolkien adaptation," and said the storytelling is rushed.
Using the headline "Flawed of the Rings," The Sun said the show's melodies were "tune-free" and the lyrics were "swamped" by the massive band.
"Overblown, over-orchestrated and now over here," its critic said.
But the paper praised Michael Therriault's "potentially award-winning" performance as a "wheedling, whining, slithery Gollum," Peter Howe's Sam, Frodo's friend, and the costumes, sets and the "sprightly choreography."
The Independent also praised Therriault as a "stand-out performer."
The Financial Times said, "As for Finnish folk group Varttina's score, even with two makeovers by (Bollywood composer) A.R. Rahman and now (musical supervisor) Christopher Nightingale, it cannot muster a single memorable tune."
The Daily Mail praised the "multifarious" set changes and the "exuberant" dancing.
But it also said: "British adults will find it difficult to suppress open laughter at this show's Portentous Moments. Corny is hardly the word. There's more corn here than in Kansas."
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