James Loye (pictured) and Peter Howe will recreate their starring roles as Hobbit heroes Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee when the stage adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings receives its European premiere at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 19 June 2007 (previews from 9 May).

The pair performed extracts from the £12.5 million musical at a launch event at the theatre this afternoon. Following a short delay due to a technical fault with a projector, 500 invited industry guests viewed a film comprising scenes from the world premiere Canadian production and interviews with the creative team – Matthew Warchus (director), Shaun McKenna (book), AR Rahman, Värttinä and Christopher Nightingale (music), Peter Darling (choreography) and Rob Howell (set and costumes).

Warchus and producer Kevin Wallace then addressed the audience and introduced the three live concert numbers: the Hobbit song “Now and for Always” performed by Loye and Howe; “The Song of the Traveller”, an Elvish song sung by Rosalie Craig; and “A Elbereth” (The Fellowship Song), performed by Loye, Howe and Craig with a 25-strong choir. Attendees also got a close-up glimpse of some of the production’s spectacular design care of a Ringwraith with his black stallion on stilts.

As part of the film detailing the creative process, Warchus recalled asking himself: why do The Lord of the Rings on stage after Tolkien’s “fantastic” books and Peter Jackson’s “amazing” films? He concluded that, while the books provided you with an interior view of Middle Earth via your own imagination and the films let you experience it “as though through a giant window”, with theatre “you can take the audience and lead them into Middle Earth so that they are physically present”. As a result, he views the stage version as an “exciting addition to the other two formats”.

Speaking to the audience later, Warchus admitted that, before he came on board the project in November 2003, he had not been a Tolkien fan. However, today he likened the stage version of The Lord of the Rings – which combines epic storytelling with music, physical theatre and high-tech designs – as Shakespeare’s Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in one story along with elements of Peter Pan, Les Miserables and The Lion King. “Everything about it is everything I love about theatre,” which is why, Warchus explained, it became an “unturndownable” and, indeed, “life-changing” experience for him and other members of the team.

Kevin Wallace has been developing The Lord of the Rings since 2001. He initially intended to present it first in the West End in spring 2005, but the premiere was delayed and the location switched to Toronto once it became apparent that their original chosen venue, the Dominion Theatre, wouldn’t be available for some time due to the ongoing success of We Will Rock You.

Twenty-six minutes have been trimmed from what’s now being called the Canadian “development” version of the musical. Now running at three hours, The Lord of the Rings is, Wallace declared, “finally coming home…. It is ready to take its place in Drury Lane. It is ready to take its place in London. It is ready to take its place in the greatest city for theatre in the world.” Casting for the rest of the 50-strong London cast of begins on Monday (11 September 2006).

- by Terri Paddock