An entire kingdom of celebrities were on hand when the West End met Middle Earth last night (19 June 2007, previews from 9 May) at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where the spectacular £12.5 million stage adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings at last received its European premiere (See Today’s Review Round-up).

At an estimated cost of £12.5 million, the epic, described by producer Kevin Wallace as “Shakespeare meets Cirque du Soleil”, is the most expensive production in West End history. The 45-foot stage alone, equipped with three revolves and 17 lifts, cost £1 million. In addition to the expense, the design for The Lord of the Rings is the most high-tech and physically complex in the West End. The show features stilt-walking, giant leaping and aerial choreography, as well as dance, illusions, magic and other special effects.

Since its Canadian try-out in spring 2006, the piece has been substantially revised and the running time shorted by 40 minutes to just over three hours. 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). It’s directed by Warchus, with design by Rob Howell and choreography by Peter Darling.

The 50-strong company is led by: James Loye (as Hobbit hero Frodo), Peter Howe (Sam), Michael Therriault (Gollum), Malcolm Storry (Gandalf), Jerome Pradon (Aragorn), Rosalie Craig (Arwen), Steven Miller (Boromir), Michael Rouse (Legolas), Sevan Stephan (Gimli), Richard Henders (Merry), Owen Sharpe (Pippin), Brian Protheroe (Saruman), and Laura Michelle Kelly (Galadriel).

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For 1st Night Photos, our Whatsonstage.com photographer Dan Wooller was on hand for the red carpet arrivals at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and at the post-show party at the Royal Courts of Justice, where producer Kevin Wallace was presented with a Tolkien-themed cake for his 50th birthday. Other first night guests included Judi Dench, Richard Eyre, Harry Enfield, Mark Rylance, Anita Dobson, Brian May, Bruno Tonioli, Hannah Waddingham, Arlene Phillips, Terry O'Quinn (TV’s Lost), Derren Brown, Daniel Evans, Andrew and Madeleine Lloyd Webber, Kevin Spacey, Faith Brown, Paddy Ashdown, Richard E Grant, Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield, Mariella Frostrup, Tamzin Outhwaite and Lee Ingleby (TV’s The Street).

- by Terri Paddock