The Ring Sings

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Fright Knight: A Black Rider seeks the ring

(4 of 4)

This is, of course, an ensemble vehicle. The only name actor, Brent Carver (a 1993 Tony winner for Kiss of the Spider Woman), turns Gandalf into a curious, wispy thing, with eccentric line readings and maundering instead of majesty. Carver's off-putting mannerisms tilt the focus from Gandalf to the hobbits--leprechaunish here, with round bellies and bottoms, like the Munchkins in MGM's Oz--persuasively played by jockey-size actors. James Loye, as Frodo, and Peter Howe, as Sam, get the message that heroes are ordinary folk who rise under extraordinary circumstances. In this predominantly Canadian cast, the other main roles are handsomely filled. But the show stealer is Michael Therriault as Gollum. Hissing and squealing, writhing convulsively to express Gollum's two warring psyches (the hobbit he was, the half-life creature his ring lust has made of him), Therriault gives the most virtuoso schizo turn since Steve Martin's half man, half woman in All of Me.

For technical legerdemain and vaulting athleticism, LOTR can't match , Cirque's Las Vegas martial-arts extravaganza. The Toronto show's battle scenes are pedestrian, and toward the end, a group of fierce warriors breaks into a heavy two-step, like clumsy backup singers in a doo-wop group. But this isn't an all-singing show, and it certainly isn't all dancing. It is a musical that becomes a spectacular morality play, an adventure with a soft and stricken heart.

At one point, Bilbo, the hobbit whose accidental custodianship of the ring would stoke the War of Middle-earth, plaintively asks, "Don't adventures ever have an end?" For Wallace, Warchus & Co., the answer is: not this one, not yet. Rather than a brisk, there-and-back-again jaunt, they are in the middle of a marathon. "Hopefully," says McKenna, "by the time we finish here, we'll have a very sound blueprint of the show we're going to do in London." They plan a West End opening of LOTR a year from now, then Hamburg or Berlin, perhaps Broadway in 2008. (Wallace has assured his Canadian partners that Toronto will be the show's only North American venue for 18 months.) But the New York City critics coming to see the show this week won't be looking for a blueprint. And McKenna insists, "This isn't a tryout. This is the real thing."

He's right. If this LOTR isn't quite the one Ring to rule them all, it's the real Middle-earth deal. Against odds that would make Aragon flinch, the Ring fellowship has staged the season's definitive megamusical, 560 km north of Times Square. For now, Broadway is off-Toronto.

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