Journalists were today (8 February 2006) introduced to the full creative team and 50-strong company of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (See News, 15 Jan 2007). Full rehearsals commence on Monday for the £12.5 million stage adaptation, which receives its European premiere – following try-outs last spring in Toronto - at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 19 June 2007 (previews from 9 May).

At today’s press reception at Drury Lane, some of the company’s physical performers – who’ve already been in boot-camp style training for three weeks – demonstrated their newly acquired skills, leaping in the air above the head of director Matthew Warchus and towering over photographer in Black Rider garb. Warchus also introduced the principals, all of whom had been cast by “the quaint, old-fashioned means of the creative team actually choosing who they want to be in the show”.

As previously announced (See News, 15 Jan 2007), they include: James Loye (Frodo), Peter Howe (Sam), Owen Sharpe (Pippin) and Michael Therriault (Gollum), all reprising their Canadian performances; Laura Michelle Kelly (Galadriel), Malcolm Storry (Gandalf), Jerome Pradon (Aragorn), Richard Henders (Merry), Michael Rouse (Legolas), Sevan Stephan (Gimli), Steven Miller (Boromir) and Rosalie Craig (Arwen); as well as Brian Protheroe, who has replaced Graham McTavish as Saruman.

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Warchus described the stage show – which has been slimmed down from 3 hours and 40 minutes in Toronto to just under three hours – as “Shakespeare meets Cirque du Soleil”. Is it a musical? He admitted that it’s difficult to know what to call it and that it certainly isn’t a musical in the “conventional West End or Broadway sense” but rather a “dramatic spectacle flooded with music” – world music that is, not show tunes – as well as dance, aerial choreography, illusions, magic and other special effects. The result is “as entertaining” a time as “you could ever hope to have in the theatre… Everything that theatre can do happens in The Lord of the Rings.”

Because of the hybrid nature of the piece, Warchus said he hoped to be able to achieve through it “one of my private aims” which is “to convert a generation of non-theatregoers into theatregoers”. He also revealed that, though there may be “legal issues” in calling it such, he referred to the Drury Lane production as the world premiere because of the “wholesale” changes that had been made to the show after what was learnt in Canada.

“Toronto was a stepping stone,” according to Warchus; London is the show’s natural home and, he believes, will be far more receptive to it since “this city has a much longer and stronger tradition of theatregoing.” The director also warned journalists not to get “bogged down” in detailing the physical or financial scale of the epic production – believed to be the biggest in West End history – because, at base, what The Lord of the Rings really represents is “a return of storytelling” and an “emotional canvas”: “that’s what people connect to”.

The Lord of the Rings has a book and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus, and music by Bombay Dreams’ AR Rahman and Finnish folk group Värttinä with Christopher Nightingale (See News, 21 Oct 2003). The production is designed by Rob Howell and choreographed by Peter Darling. It’s presented in London by Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz.

- by Terri Paddock, photos by Dan Wooller