Review – The Lord of the Rings – The Musical!

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Lord of the Whinge“Unleash your imagination” scream the ubiquitous posters for The Lord of the Rings – The Musical! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Well, with so much money thrown at the production the Whingers were rather hoping they could just relax into their seats and not have to imagine anything. They’d coughed up their hard-earned (or possibly in Andrew’s case the result of a little fingersmithery) money, why should they have to do the work?

Unleashing their vitriol was the only thing they were expecting to do.

Much has been made of the £25 million (if you include the Toronto staging) price tag. Still, that’s only half the cost of Damien Hirst’s latest opus “For the Love of God”. Imagine – Damien could break it up for bling and be his own Lord of the Rings. Or he could stage the show twice if he were so inclined.

But we digress. Swaying along en route to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Phil adjusted his lorgnettes and spotted some small print on the tickets which advised that “pre-show entertainment starts 15 minutes before the performance”.

He was on the verge of the vapours: just how long would the whole evening last? It was reputedly four hours long at one stage in Toronto. Would it be over before Andrew turned into a pumpkin?

Andrew – in a rare moment of compassion – felt rather sorry for the cast. He whipped out his abacus and eventually calculated that on top of everything else they have to do eight times a week (not to mention risking life and limb on the much vaunted million pound revolve), some of them were working an extra two hours. Andrew was considering calling health and safety and reading up on the Working Time Regulations.

Anyway, due to the fact that there was wine to be drunk and that previous reports had suggested a three-and-a-half hour running time, the Whingers had left it to the last possible moment and succeeded in catching only the last moments of this “entertainment” which seemed to consist of hobbits running round the auditorium chasing fireflies and some supposedly spontaneous country dancing on the stage. Things weren’t looking good, but to be fair it might have been brilliant earlier on. Might have been.

Thankfully the real show began on time and the Whingers settled back for what they had been in training for for weeks: a very long evening looking at a very nice set.

And, really, everything we heard is right. We even agreed with Lady Skipper and that hasn’t happened (albeit on a matter of principle) since 1978 and the disagreeable incident over the choice of cheese for the fondue party.

The staging is incredible. The spectacle is extraordinary. The staging is magnificent. The lighting is astonishing. The effects are stunning. (Andrew – Stop trying to get quoted on the posters. It’s pathetic. – Phil).

As for the other elements…

Fortunately J.R.R. Tolkien’s plot (when it can be followed), has been clipped to such a extent it resembles those keynotes used for pre-exam cramming school-children did in the days before “continuous assessment” and copying off the Internet.

The programme helpfully presents a summary of the plot so the Whingers assumed they weren’t the only ones to be sitting in the audience scratching their heads as they tried to keep up.

Now, the Whingers are quite accustomed to not understanding what’s going on, but this was in a different league. At one point there was a reference to Gandalf going to see someone called Tom Bombadil but Andrew couldn’t recall this character appearing or even having been mentioned before. A quick Internet search revealed that:

Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work. While almost every other aspect of Middle-earth is described for us in exacting (we think they probably mean excruciating) detail, Tom is an enigma. We have almost no clue of his origins or his fate, his purpose or even what kind of being he is.

So one would have thought that Tom Bombadil would be one of the first things you’d cut if you were looking to condense three hefty tomes into three hours. Perhaps it was an in-joke.

But while the programme might help with the plot, it is of no use whatsoever when it comes to the songs (other than admitting to who wrote them). Nope, no song list at all. One needs say nothing more really.

But we will anyway.

The music is by A.R. Rahman (Bombay Dreams) and Värttinä (“Finland’s most successful contemporary folk group” according to the programme). Towards the beginning it sounded occasionally like the theme from The Last of the Summer Wine but it settled down into a kind of Riverdance/Enya mashup. Don’t ask us to hum any of it; we couldn’t.

The lyrics (book and lyrics are by Shaun McKenna and the director Matthew Warchus) failed to inspire, but to be fair we couldn’t make many of them out.

Occasionally this was because they weren’t in English. Some woman sang in a foreign language for a while and then swapped to English at which point Andrew managed to catch a few phrases such as “let the sunlight free the heart” and “the tides of our life are turning” before deciding the effort wasn’t worth it and plugging in his iPod.

There were a couple of big numbers involving hobbits waving their arms around. Was this hobbit sign-language? The Whingers wished they’d brushed up on theirs as it was the only way they were going to understand the songs.

It certainly has its moments, both Gollum and Galadriel make spectacular entrances (Gollum crawls head-first down the curtain) and the incredible climax to Act One almost took Andrew’s hair-piece to the back of the stalls. Neither Whinger can recall ever experiencing the rush of wind in the stalls before (except for the time Andrew came off his cabbage soup diet).

West End illusionist Paul Kieve who did such great things in Our House and Theatre of Blood pulls off some great effects, but Andrew would say that as he met Paul about 10 years ago and persists in referring to him as his “friend” although Phil has seen no evidence to support this. Certainly he wasn’t at the West End Whingers party.

There’s also an impressive scene with a giant spider which creeps up behind Frodo but unfortunately the moment was ruined when the beast fired what looked to be a party-popper from its mouth. One of the fight scenes between Boromir and an orc featured the old sword-under-the-arm trick which was surprising.

In its favour, the show started bang on time, and finished a little over three hours later although – like the films – it dribbled on to its to conclusion way beyond the moment that it could have reasonably decided to call it a day.

A tip: the Whingers’ seats were towards the centre of row K in the stalls; they not only provided excellent sight-lines but provided ample leg room and afforded a close up of the Orcs (presumably unaware they were unaware) accosting a pregnant woman directly in front of the director’s seat. The Whingers feared another headline, with this time an audience member being rushed off to hospital.

The only downside to these seats, really, was being accosted by the director which isn’t something one generally worries about when seeing a show.

Actually, all in all, the Whingers quite enjoyed themselves but ultimately we are forced to agree with the director who says in today’s Evening Standard that “on paper The Lord Of The Rings – The Musical sounds crazy.”

As spectacle, it’s great. As a musical…

Lord of the Rings - the thumbs

But don’t miss our exciting exclusive interview with the director!


53 Responses to “Review – The Lord of the Rings – The Musical!”

  1. Kieron Says:

    I could not agree more, i went to see it about a week ago. I was blown away by the special effects, mesmerised by the stage, and scared by a bloody orc who creeped up behind me. But the musical numbers were not memorable or good, and the acting and script left much to be desired. another bang up job by the whingers, keep up the good work.

  2. Di Says:

    I felt I shouldn’t say anything because you are talking about the production of Lord of The Rings in London and I’m in Toronto which is where I saw it. But as you mention Toronto..
    I nearly didn’t go because I read the reviews and comments and heard remarks on the radio like the ones in West End Wingers. I can’t remember what suddenly motivated me to take what I thought was a big risk with a lot of money and go and see for myself. I am just so glad I did, because if I hadn’t I would have missed out on what for me was an incredible experience. There was a sense of being pulled into the show through the technical genius of it, it’s music and its actors. (Several of the leads who are also in your show there). one lives the experience of being part of that totally different world one of hobbits elves, wizards orcs through all the senses. I didn’t just feel I was seeing something on stage while I was in a seat in the audience a them and us thing. I really visited Middle Earth. The genius of it all of it did unleash my imagination. I couldn’t resist going back and back .

  3. Pauline Says:

    Has the show ever been billed as a musical? Hmmm? No. It’s a stage production…breaking new ground for what is acheivable on stage. I loved the show.
    Just because it cost so much money to put on doesn’t mean you have to go in there looking for some way to put the show down. I guess it makes a better story, eh Whingers?
    It seems very interesting that you think it doesn’t work as a musical…well maybe because it isn’t really one and never set out to be!
    Stop Whinging and give this show the recognition it deserves!
    I’m going back and taking friends…let’s face it…this really is something special amongst other shows that cost as much for a ticket and still have the same set after 20 years!!

  4. Thanks all. Pauline –
    A. “has the show ever been billed as a musical?” They wouldn’t dare.
    B. “Makes a better story” Yes.
    C. “Stop whinging”. Ummm. we think you may be missing the point of th blog.
    D. “I’m going back and taking friends” What did they ever do to you?

  5. Peter Morris Says:

    Well I agree with the review – the show has some spectacular moments, but it is the ultimate example of style over substance. The first act is passable, but by the end the plot really is a nonsense, with things happening because they have to rather than flowing from any kind of structured narrative.

    Mind you, I thought the same thing about ‘Anything Goes’ as well…

  6. But Anything Goes had FANTASTIC songs.

  7. de Faoite Says:

    Review sums up perfectly though left out some of the awful acting on display. Reminded me of watching a cgi filled blockbuster – that empty, hollow feeling afterwards. Visually stunning but nothing to hold it together.

  8. […] Of The Rings – The musical This sounds truly appalling: review Looks like everyone has universally panned it (but they did that with Star Wars). No, not for […]

  9. I was just watching This Is Spinal Tap, and realised I forgot to include in my review the thought that ran through my head during the happy hobbits’ number: “And oh, ‘ow they danced, the little children of Stone’enge…”

    But you know what they say: 50,000,000 Elvish fans can’t be wrong.

  10. Scott Says:

    Upper Circle seats £42.50
    Legroom on par with a charter flight
    No airconditioning
    A handy cardboard fan provided

    Visually stunning in parts, but largely dull. Not sure why this is a musical, when most of the show is tedious, wooden narrative. Some great performances (Gollum, Galadriel, Arwen and those ORCS!)..but Saraman had all the menace of a prawn, and Boromir just made us laugh with his ropey accent.

    That aside the whole thing was spolied by the fact that the seats were cramped and the theatre has no aircon…all you could hear in the (hotter) second half was the flapping of the Theatre Royal provided cardboard fans – it was like being in a butterfly farm! It was so hot my nephew nodded off – although wasn’t sure if that was LOTR related!

  11. Cadringiel Says:

    I went to see it when I was in London, and I would like to say that if you Whingers had read the book you would have understood the plot. You would also understand the signifigance of the “foreign language”. It was a combination of Elvish and Black Speech, very important in the books. Like you said, amazing spectical. It couldn’t decide whether it was a musical at all, and if it was one, what kind of musical it was. There were songs that stopped the action and songs that farthered it. I loved the over-all sound of it, but it really wasn’t a musical in the common sense of the word. It was a show with songs in it, yes. But a musical? Not exactly.

    The thing that angered me the most was the inconsistancies in the plot. I felt they spent far too long on the Fellowship of the Ring and not nearly enough time on Two Towers or Return of the King. Another thing, what ever happened to that other country, Rohan? And why is the Steward fighting with Aragorn? You complain of the length, yet you don’t appreciate what they sacrificed in order to make it as short (yes, I said short) as it was.

    Also, Tom Bombadil is a very important character! Read the book!

    All-in-all, the show made you experience the land of Middle Earth more so than the movies or the book. I felt engaged the entire time, whether or not you did.

  12. Cadringiel – you are right of, course. It was lazy and remiss of us not to read the books before going to see it. we have only ourselves to blame for not understanding what was going on.,

  13. Louise Jankowski Says:




  14. Di Says:

    so Andrew do you plan on going and checking out the show again at any time

  15. Russ Says:

    All I can say is that it was better than that garbage put on at the movies by Peter Jackson … that was a real snore and bore.

  16. Keeley Says:

    This Musical it is the best production to hit london theatres.
    The singing was amazing from all but the best was Frodo, Aragorn, Galadriel, Arwen, Legolas and Pippin was hugely funny. all the actors were amazing and Gollem was very impressive.
    The special effects were great and very realistic
    the only problem was the price of the souvenirs.
    All i can say is that its better than the movies (I KNOW). and
    GO SEE IT (i will Again)

  17. Jason Says:

    The music is AMAZING!!!! Go to the web site and take a listen. Yes, I wish there were more “songs”, but for what they have this show is pretty damn good.

    Can’t to see it again this June!

  18. LOTR fan Says:

    AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 10/10

  19. LOTR supporter Says:

    the music was totally appropriate for the show – it would have been out of place to have any of the cheesy jazz handed numbers that other musicals have – it just wouldn’t have fitted at all – the style of the music suited the story – slightly folky, definately foreign and added to the the overall atmosphere of the play rather than took away from it (which song ‘numbers’ may have done) although the story was a bit cut and pasted you did get the general gist of what was going on – destroy the ring etc and the parts that were included were amazing – soooo much was good about this show – performance is not just about the acting overall it was FANTASTIC and i would love to see it again!!

  20. elphaba_lives Says:

    I am currently sitting at my computer writing up a review of LOTR for my A level drama coursework. im bored senseless. I LOVE LOTR, but having to write about the musical is absurd.
    It was great, i reallt enjoyed it, but not enough Strider!

  21. Kathleen Says:

    I cannot imagine this as a musical at all! I must say there has been such a lack of creativity in creating musical on Broadway and now I see in London too. I’m not a fan of this type genre film so I don’t think I would’ve planned to go see this if I happened to go to London, but thank you very much for this review so I could understand what went down in this musical!

  22. Di Says:

    So sorry you are finding it hard to write about LOTR especially as you say you loved it.
    In my own opinion It is a great souvenir to have what you loved and what touched you in the show down on paper.

    Matthew Warchus says in one of the programmes for the show
    “Only in the theatre are we actually plunged into the events as they happen. The environment surrounds us. We participate. We are in Middle-earth”

    How that environment surrounded you, how you participated, how you were in Middle earth. is going to be unique because you are you, no one else can tell the story of how you went to Middle-earth but you just write about all you felt and saw and it will be great, trust it.

    Best of luck

    Do you find the questions in the Educational section on the LOTR web site helpful as queues to get started .

    I am no teacher or anything like that I just enjoyed writing about the show after I went

  23. deFaoite Says:

    Like all wounded animals, it’s being put out of it’s misery. Mid July sees it finish.

  24. soso Says:

    i love love love love felm the lord of the rings and i,m did frodo thnk you

  25. ismail Says:

    felm sea of love

  26. Amber K. Says:

    Does anyone know what kind of souvenirs the show has? And how much do they cost????

  27. Vorlina Says:

    i picked up a lovely “bottom heavy” coffee mug, with various sayings from the show on it – nice and useful.

  28. Paul Says:

    I don’t think I can find a review where you enjoyed a show…
    God knows how you can afford to see all these plays so often but however it is then you’re wasting your time and your money because you don’t seem to have any appreciation of anything. Whingers is an understatement.

    In regards to LOTR I went to see it this week and I enjoyed it very much. There’s a thousand and one things I could pick at when it comes to casting choices and the structure of the narrative (and definitely the script) but over all its the most enjoyable show I have ever seen and I think the music is stunning stuff indeed. The cast carried the show very well, especially the hobbits but Gandalf was a major disappointment while Galadriel was a huge highlight of the show, as was Arden. The show stealer was of course the Balrog; magic! The scenic design is fantastic and the ever changing stage really added some more excitement to the battle scenes which could have ended up dull (even though the music is fantastic). The moving stage was a highlight at one point in which Frodo and Sam are climbing Mount Doom and it becomes a slope of the mountain as they climb towards a fiery glow of light and smoke stage right! It looked great, so effective.

    I also hope you whingers weren’t actually that rude to Matthew Warchus…at least it did sound like you were. (not that it sounds he was polite to you) I wasn’t there to get the picture fully; to your amazement I’m sure.

    Keep up the whinging.

    • Vixis Says:

      I agree with everything Paul said – Im a great LoTR fan, I *could* pick faults with the stage show but as it was a damn hard book to condense and film, my admiration is high for the producer and actors that pulled off a really stunning show (one of the orcs damaged himself at our show, unfortunately but Im amazed it doesnt happen at every show given the visability). If you are not LoTR fans, why on earth go see the show? If you dont know the storyline it must have been v. boring for you, hence the belittling.

  29. cattie Says:

    I agree with alot of your comments. Visually it is a feast for the eyes, but it’s the music that lets it down. I think if they removed the songs completely, and replaced them with some plot it would be enhanced tremendously.
    Despite this I am definately glad I went to see it, and would even consider going again, maybe on a second viewing it would make more sense. Worth seeing if only to say you’ve seen it.

  30. Reece howard Says:

    No way you lot. These guys LOOK for reasons to criticize about. This show was amazing and the songs were indeed memorable but everyone deserve their own opinion… But i just think yours is wrong!

  31. Reece howard Says:

    Why do you spend so much money just so you can tell everyone else how much you thinked it sucked THIS IS A STUPID WEB AND YOU WASTE YOUR TIME WHEN YOU COULD BE DOING SOMETHING USEFUL LIKE SHUTTING UP

  32. sam Says:

    i hate people like you

    go looking for things that are bad

    in my opinion i thought the show was amazing and had everything for a perfect musical the set and music was stunning n you say all these thing like you plugged in your ipod which i think is extremly rude for the performers
    for how much they put into these shows

    n i would like to see you do better

  33. Baggins Says:

    I bet you people are really unhappy making up such stories! Thanks to you, a magnificent show is closing! I couldn’t spot a single thing wrong with it, just because it is totally different and you have to be open-minded and forget the film/book doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. A magical show that interacts with the audience is an unforgettable show! And what’s this about a foreign language??? You are dispicable! Absoloutly rude and there is no need for it! It’s not easy to get into the West End and what you say about these performers, some of my friends is utterly disgarceful! You make me sick!

  34. Graham Says:

    That could be your new catchphrase – ‘West End Whingers – putting the arce into discarceful’

  35. webcowgirl Says:

    Wow, such vitriol! Is it because when a show is about to close, all of the people who had jobs because of it suddenly have more time on their hands?

    What’s especially odd is how very many critics panned this show and yet how these whiners had to come here and mewl about giving your honest opinion about the show. I think LOTR had a shockingly long run. What is there to complain about? Most of the time when I hear comments like these it’s from people who just don’t get out all that much. How many shows have they seen in the last year that were excellent? How many were poor? I’d guess one show, and they decided that it was excellent because the didn’t have any basis of comparison. Doubtlessly at the movies they’d recognize a turkey if they saw one.

    At least the thick skin all of these angry people are helping us develop will help us all stave of the scourge of aging!

  36. IgettosayitnowIgettosayitnowIgettosayitnow!: “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvish has left the building.”

  37. Ian – you had actually diarised that, hadn’t you?

  38. sam Says:

    to webcowgirl

    i haveacctualy seen 5 different west end shows this year and lord of the rings happens to be the best

    n i bet ur happy because you think you came up with something clever to say, its retards like you who should just apreciat other peoples effort and work they put into things to entertain you but u just sit there thinking it bad n i sed this be4 n i will say it again


  39. Hravan Says:

    I must say I LOVED the show. I was luckily enough to see it twice in London.
    Regarding the “foreign language” – Tolkien created a whole new world including languages so if this production didn’t contain any of his languages then it just wouldn’t be Middle-earth!

    As for the music… each time I saw the show I didn’t really rate the music. Mainly because the music is pushed aside by the amazing set and effects. However, I brought the soundtrack and after listening to it I realised how good the music it. You can’t actually appreciate the music while you’re watching the show because of everything else going on. Also, in the soundtrack is printed all the lyrics, including the Elvish and Black Speech and translations.

    However, I must say that the plot was pretty weak. Like the films it suffered from having to condense it. Even so, they did do a pretty good job, the only thing that annoyed me was the whole “Steward of the Lands of Men”. Obviously done for the part of the audience who decided to turn up without any knowledge of Middle-earth so it wouldn’t confuse them with Théoden/Denethor/Faramir. But if they’re still confused then they should just stop complaining and stop being lazy and read the book. Like with the films, if you’re too lazy to read the book you’re not going to understand it properly or appreciate what a good job they did of an incredibly difficult project.

  40. webcowgirl Says:

    Wow, to be insulted by someone with such a stellar command of the English language is in and of itself quite a compliment! Thank you, Sam, for taking the trouble to read my prose and I express my high appreciation for the laughter generated by your own post.

    I DO BETTR! kthx

  41. Simone Says:

    You’re hysterical webcowgirl! 😛

  42. You IDOTS Says:

    WTF are you muppets on the only thing that sucks here is YOU !! Get a life !!!!

    Amazing show 15 out of 10 !!!!

    MORONS !!!!!

  43. Kieran Says:

    Ok i can agree with you in some parts but i personally enjoyed it emensly i saw the last show and felt as though i wanted to see it at least two more times just to really appreciate it, i wish i could have seen it more than once as it was the best stage musical i had ever seen as for the foreign language it was elfish

  44. sam Says:

    oh webcowgirl

    Get a life

    your like a child

  45. sam Says:

    oh webcow girl

    shut up

    your like a little child

  46. webcowgirl Says:

    Sam, the proper scansion for for a haiku is traditionally 5/7/5. Example:

    Reading these poor posts
    Sam, speaking, repeating Sam
    Tears falling on rocks.

    There! Now you can try.

    (PS: best run your post through a grammar checker first also, hate to have you caught out using “your” when you meant “you’re.”)

  47. […] the second image is also a must post for someone like me. It’s a review of the Lord of the Rings musical. They didn’t like it very much. “As a spectacle, […]

  48. Rosemary Says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but I did look up the music, and at first I didn’t really apreciate it. But then I started to listen to it a lot more and I realized I really liked it! Try listening to lothlorien, or try to get the happy feeling with the road goes on! You’l be amazed:)

  49. Taylor Says:

    All this talk is very interesting to a theatre techie & a lover of the theatre in general. From what I’ve seen and read about the show, it appears to be quite the epitome of technical genius. I’m moved by the lighting alone in the clips I’ve watched. I love the LOTR books & read them all (The Hobbit included) before seeing any of the movies. I greatly admire Tolkien for all his works, especially his Essay on Fairy Stories. As I have not seen the show, I can’t fairly say too much for the review. However, I have had the privilege of hearing the music. It was a bit of an offense to poke fun at the singing in Elvish. I think that would have been Tolkien’s favorite part of the show. He was a philologist, afterall, and loved his Elvish language enough to thoroughly develop two dialects of it. The Elvish in the musical is gorgeous to the ear and either quotes directly from passages in the books or is based on a grouping of them. Translations can be found online, & many of the lyrics are repeated in English in the song itself.
    I would give a great deal to have been able to see this show while it was still in London.

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