Producers confirmed today that the £11.5 million stage musical adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings will no longer be receiving its world premiere in London. Originally slated for spring 2005 in the West End (See News, 28 May 2003), the production will now open first at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre on 23 March 2006 (previews from 2 February), ahead of a planned London transfer in autumn 2006.

According to producer Kevin Wallace, the London premiere was postponed because of a lack of 2,000-seat venue availability (See The Goss, 18 Aug 2004). The preferred home had been the Dominion Theatre, but Queen musical We Will Rock You, still going strong, refused to relinquish its foothold at the theatre, where it’s currently booking until the end of October 2005.

Wallace said that The Lord of the Rings had “captured the imagination” of Canadian government officials and partners, making the Toronto alternative “the ideal platform from which to launch the premiere production to the world”. The world premiere will coincide with the 70th anniversary of when Tolkien first began writing The Lord of the Rings and follows the 50th anniversary of the publication of the complete trilogy, comprising The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

Director Matthew Warchus said in a statement that he is not worried about comparisons with either the books or Peter Jackson’s multi award-winning film blockbusters, completed in 2003. “To read the novel is to experience the events of Middle-earth in the mind’s eye; to watch the films is to view Middle-earth as though through a giant window. 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.”

Commenting specifically on the musical theatre approach, Warchus added: “We have not attempted to pull the novel towards the standard conventions of musical theatre, but rather to expand those conventions so that they will accommodate Tolkien’s material. As a result, we will be presenting a hybrid of text, physical theatre, music and spectacle never previously seen on this scale.”

The Lord of the Rings has 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 premiere production is designed by Rob Howell and choreographed by Peter Darling. It’s presented in Canada by Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz, in association with David and Ed Mirvish and Michael Cohl.

Casting for the Canadian premiere begins immediately and, thanks to relaxed Equity arrangements, may include some British actors. Rehearsals begin in Toronto on 24 October 2005.

- by Terri Paddock