Thursday, June 21, 2007

Did Critics Find Lords' Muddled Earth?

Did Critics Find Lords' Muddled Earth?

Almost in spite of famously flopping last year in Toronto, Matthew Warchus persevered with his stage musical adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord Of The Rings by steering it toward its West End opening night on Tuesday. After taking in the performance at London's Royal Theatre, Drury Lane, critics were sharply divided: they either loved it or hated it.

Lavishing praise on the production is none other than Sam Marlowe of The Times in her four-out-of-five star review: "Warchus and his team have a created a brave, stirring, epic piece of popular theatre that, without slavishly adhering to J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, embraces their spirit. The show has charm, wit, and jaw-dropping theatrical brio; crucially, it also has real emotional heft....[S]nobbery and cynicism be damned: this show is a wonder. Go with an open mind, an open heart, and wide-open eyes, and prepare for enchantment."

Confessing to being "hugely impressed by the manner of Matthew Warchus's production," Michael Billington of The Guardian awards the show with four out of five stars: "[A]lthough I find it difficult to buy into the Tolkien myth, I happily pay tribute to the skills of Warchus and his production team. For all the technology on display in a £12.5m musical, they avoid presenting us with a heartless industrialised spectacle....On the whole, however, it is not a show for connoisseurs of acting....But I had a perfectly good time at Drury Lane and, if Tolkien's trilogy is to be a stage spectacle, I don't see how it could be better done."

Saying "this show is unlikely to blow you away" is The Independent's Paul Taylor, who complains that it "turns out to be a show with a bit of an identity crisis, strong on dynamic spectacle, squeezed as drama, and in two minds about how it wants to use music dramatically.the story-telling is rushed....Even a fine classical actor, Malcolm Storry, who plays Gandalf, is left struggling with cardboard characterisation."

Calling the musical "a thumping great flop," the Telegraph's Charles Spencer pans: "The language is flat, portentous or twee, and there is barely a moment that makes you gasp. Indeed most of the special effects seem highly derivative, from old-hat bungee jumping to the Louise Bourgeois inspired giant spider. Nor does this story of epic battles run to a single decent sword-fight, a truly astonishing omission....Repeatedly during this show you feel its creators have more money than either sense or imagination."

Noting how "it was simply the wrong book to dramatize," Variety's David Benedict is also heavily critical of the show: "With the story reduced to an almost pageant-like, expository parade of individual episodes played at equal dramatic weight, basic requirements like expectation, momentum, and, above all, tension evaporate....Performances, however, fade beneath the might of the presentation, which attempts to divert auds with every device available to its enormous budget."

Labeling the show as "folly, ill-fated at conception, tedious and vulgar in execution" along with exactly one star is Kieron Quirke of the Evening Standard: "People said it couldn't be done -- and they were right. The attempt to condense the 20th century's most popular epic into three hours has resulted in an empty-headed and messy extravaganza that will appal established fans and baffle newcomers....To watch it is to hear money poured down the drain."

Whether any of this will matter to the legions of LOTR fans remains to be seen, but I have an inkling that the devotees may not take to a work that leaves so much of the story hurried, if not unseen.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
London Lord Of The Rings Opens Tonight (June 19, 2007)
Can London Lord Capture Critical Ring? (May 20, 2007)

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