Review: The Lord of the Rings Musical

Let me make perfectly clear as I begin that I have not had an opportunity to see The Lord of the Rings Musical, and it is unlikely that I ever will. I have, however, seen some YouTube clips from the musical, and I have downloaded the entire soundtrack. On those both I will base my judgments of the show.

Let me first present “Lothlorien”. This song is actually available for free (right-click to download) on the official website of this production, It is presented as an introduction, by Legolas, to Galadriel and the realm of Lothlorien. It is certainly an inspiring song, though it seems somewhat outside of canon to have an elf prince from Mirkwood provide an introduction to an elf queen from Lorien. I suppose this sort of thing must be done, though, when producing a musical. However, I was not expecting this:

When I think of Lothlorien, I do not think of acrobatics. Sure, Peter Jackson’s movies have skewed my idea of elves, and yes, the portrayal of the elves in Rivendell in The Hobbit by Tolkien is one of playfulness, much more than the dignity and honor that we see in the later books and movies. However, my opinion still remains: from a standpoint of practicality, it is unlikely that elves are going to spend their time rolling themselves up and down trees on a cloth. That being said, it is a spectacular sight to see even in a video, and I’m assuming it is much grander to see in person. The music itself is incredible.

Again, I am going to voice an opinion from the standpoint of canon and practicality. I choose practicality, because in any medium, whether it be a novel, a movie, or a musical production, I want any particular character or any particular race to appear real and believable. Coming from the perspective of an English teacher and an actor and a some-time director myself (of very small productions mind you), I am reminded of a simple word: motivation. The reason a character does something. If there is no reason for a character to do something or move somewhere, other than “I need to do something or move somewhere”, you’ve broken the fourth wall and the production ceases to be believable. I noticed this several times in this video. Allow me to illustrate.

  1. As I mentioned previously, there is no practical purpose for elves to engage in acrobatics, other than to produce a spectacle for the viewer.
  2. Hobbits picking up and running about with benches. While “lazy” is too strong a word, I don’t think the hobbits of canon would engage in quite that much exercise. Some dancing while singing perhaps. The hand gestures while sitting on the benches does work though I also think this is a bit too much. I do understand the musicals are meant to awe the audience, but there are boundaries too. Don’t cross them.
  3. The candles. Oh for the love of all things wondrous… Why on Middle-Earth would elves ever consider it a good idea to strap candles to the tops of their hands and do some variation of the Macarena with them? I found this “spectacle” to be the most ridiculous and the least “spectacular”.
  4. The costumes. Some costumes are also over-the-top. I have to take a step back from practicality for this point, because even in our modern society, many people wear ridiculous things for the sake of fashion, with a total disregard for practicality. However, some costumes, while they look cool, aren’t akin to what I think the canon characters would wear. For example: why would Elrond wear so many chains around his garment? Or: why would Aragorn braid his hair?
  5. Galadriel and the Lothlorien themes are much too pervasive. I suppose this is much like what happened with Spamalot (to its credit): the Lady of the Lake, while barely mentioned in the Monty Python film, is a major character in the musical. Likewise, Galadriel is not really a major character in the books or films as a whole, and yet she sings most of the songs and appears in scenes where she shouldn’t appear, were this to production to have true basis in canon. For example, Galadriel appears and sings during the scene where Gollum falls into Mount Doom. Of course, this could be a dream-like state for Frodo (as a Galadriel dream sequence does happen to Frodo in the third movie), wherein that would make sense. Besides, the theme that Galadriel sings at that point, though it is a repeat of an earlier theme from Wonder, which is again related to Lothlorien, is the most spectacular, in my opinion, of the entire production.

Speaking of the soundtrack, the tracks are as follows:

  1. Prologue
  2. The Road Goes On
  3. Saruman
  4. The Cat and the Moon
  5. Flight to the Ford
  6. The Song of Hope
  7. Star of Earendil
  8. Lament for Moria
  9. The Golden Wood
  10. Lothlorien
  11. The Siege of the City of Kings
  12. Now and for Always
  13. Gollum/Smeagol
  14. The Song of Hope (Duet)
  15. Wonder
  16. The Final Battle
  17. Epilogue (Farewells)
  18. Finale

It is difficult to tell from this list how much of the story makes it into the production. It would be impossible to include every detail of the story, because even Peter Jackson couldn’t include every detail, and his extended edition movies already total over 11 hours. However, looking at the track list, the first ten tracks at least appear to come from The Fellowship of the Ring backstory, which leaves little time to include the backstory for The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Track 11 appears to be in reference to Minas Tirith, which is a major setting from The Return of the King, so I might venture a guess that The Two Towers storyline was cut entirely, except that I saw very distinctly what appear to be ents in the middle of the second clip above, who are major characters from The Two Towers. All of this is speculation, of course, as I have not seen this production, but have only listened to the soundtrack. I can only assume that the storyline that was kept makes sense.

Although I said earlier that Galadriel and the Lothlorien themes are too pervasive, the tracks that include those themes–Lothlorien, Wonder, and The Final Battle–are among my favorites of this musical and among several other musicals. The Prologue and the Farewells are likewise great pieces of music. The Road Goes On and The Cat and the Moon are very fun and exciting songs sung by the hobbits. I also really like both versions of The Song of Hope, as well as Now and for Always.

There aren’t many songs from the soundtrack that I dislike. I don’t generally listen to the instrumental songs from the intense battles scenes, but that is the same for the Lord of the Rings film soundtracks–I don’t listen to those songs either. However, there are two songs that I don’t care for that are associated with the elves, not with orcs as the battle themes are: Star of Earendil, because it reminds me entirely too much of the ridiculous candles (above), and The Golden Wood. I mentioned previously that it doesn’t seem “practical” for elves to be “spinning” up and down from the trees, at times hanging from the trees like bats. The Golden Wood features not music, but noise–noise that I find akin to the sound that bats make to echolocate their prey of mosquitos, which further solidifies the bat metaphor.

Do I think the rest of the soundtrack more than makes up for its drawbacks? Yes. Do I wish I could have seen it while it was still running? Yes. Would I recommend this musical to everyone? Probably not. I have taken an interest in it merely because I like both Lord of the Rings and musicals.