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Adventures in London: Lord of the Rings the Musical

Analise Lipari | Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I’ll admit it – I’ve always wanted to be a cultural sophisticate. You know, to be that kid – the one who goes to the opera and likes it, or finds meaning in the puzzles of modern art. And to some extent, I’d like to think that I am. Earlier this semester I attended a performance of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (say that five times fast), or “The Magic Flute,” and fell in love with Papageno, Sarastro and Co. (Granted, it was a required performance for my Opera in Britain class, but that’s a peripheral detail.) I even went to the opening of a Dadaism – read: “challenging” – exhibit at the Tate Modern, and pretended to “get it” when I saw Duchamp’s autographed urinal.

The beauty of being in one of the world’s cultural and financial capitals, when it comes to indulging your inner arts-lover, is twofold. Firstly, there’s money (and a socialist government’s arts council – thanks, Welfare State!) to back up arts initiatives. Secondly, the museums are usually free. Most shows aren’t terribly priced, minus the exchange rate. Point being, I’ve had many an opportunity to indulge those artsy interests and add some points to my poser quotient.

But sometimes, I don’t want to be a cultural sophisticate. Sometimes I don’t want to exercise my mind, challenge my perceptions or push my boundaries. Sometimes, I just want to have a bloody good time.

Which is why, last Thursday night, I bucked tradition, sense and every review I’ve read or heard and saw the “Lord of the Rings” musical.

“Really, Analise? Really.” I know, I know. To answer a few preliminary questions you might have: Yes, there is, in fact, a Lord of the Rings musical playing in the West End. It was in Toronto and over an hour longer first, and now runs in the theater in Drury Lane. Yes, there are dancing Hobbits and Elves and Dwarves, oh my. No, Viggo Mortensen does not play Aragon (for which I’m both mildly disappointed and, for his sake, pretty thankful). And yes, I really did see the play, in all of its show tune-belting, One Ring-wearing glory.

And to be honest? It was the most ridiculous, cheesy, over-the-top thing that I’ve probably ever seen, and I loved every minute.The show’s production budget is well over £12 million (read: that’s a whole lotta Dwarf gold), and it definitely shows. The stage itself centers on concentric rotating platforms in the floor that can rise and fall individually at the push of a techie’s button. The costumes are epic, and the songs are … well, they’re catchy as all heck, even when they’re terrible. The Bag End, Prancing Pony and Minas Tirith sets were definite highlights, as was the Balrog sequence in the Mines of Moria. It was a “no holds barred, no Hobbit left behind” kind of night.

Of course, there were points – more often than not – when I had to avert my eyes out of pain. Galadriel initially sings a Celtic-y, epic song when the Fellowship enters Lothlorien called, surprisingly enough, “Lothlorien.” (Visit the show’s website to stream “Lothlorien” if you’re really that curious.) The song is more than a little ridiculous, especially for its potential singing-in-the-shower factor. However, when Galadriel randomly appears (Is she spirit? Is she matter? Is she totally unnecessary? Yes, yes and yes) during a major battle scene and once again starts singing operatically about “Lothlorien” amidst the hordes of Orcs, you’re a stronger woman that I am if you don’t choke on the hysterical laughter you just stifled.

But even if it didn’t exactly add to the development of my cultured sensibilities, I’m still singing the songs in my head. Awesomely bad it may have been, the show did leave me with some eternal nuggets of wisdom, like “May the hair on your toes never fall out.” Amen, Frodo. Amen.

The views expressed in Scene and Heard are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Analise Lipari at alipari@nd.edu.