Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ooo! A blog! Created solely so I could post a comment in another blog. However, now that it's here, I guess I should use it.

As the tagline says, expect most posts to be poker-related. I'm edgy, creative, and original that way. I hesitate to call this a "poker blog" though, because I'm nowhere near the league of the real players in that blogging game. I'm really more like junior midget t-ball in comparison. However, I have little desire to post about my personal life, so that leaves rants, rare spurts of inspiration, and poker as possible topics.

Segue! (smooth, wasn't it?) Here's the first rant:

Lord of the Rings: The Musical is closing early in Toronto. $26mil to get on stage, and it's closing September 3rd, instead of March next year. Obviously, it isn't doing the business they'd hoped it would. It needed to sell out every night, and it wasn't. It will open in London in May, trimmed down to 3 hours (from 3.5 for the Toronto show, 5 hours for the Toronto previews, and 9 hours as originally planned).

Here comes the ranty part.

The creators are blaming the North American critics. They're dolts. Plain and simple -- the musical sucks. The critics were right, and I'll be damned if they didn't do their best to gilt this pile of crap so that they DIDN'T crush it. Not surprisingly, they're starting to come out a bit more honestly the day after they got blamed for its demise.

Background on me: I read the LotR trilogy when I was a teenager. I skipped parts of the longer songs in the text, and had a heck of a time getting through the first 100 pages. However, I loved the books. I saw The Hobbit and the Lord of The Rings animated movies as a child. In fact, I think I still have the hardcover book version of the the LotR rotoscoped movie. When they announced the big trilogy of movies, I pulled out my 3-volume edition again and re-read it. This time reading ALL of it, every word, even the appendices and glossary. I then bought and read The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, again, every word of them.

I watched the trilogy in theatre, and loved them. Yah, I had my gripes about what was cut, what was changed, etc.. On the whole though, I understood the need to trim these vast volumes into something filmable. Besides, Jackson brought a lot of the cut stuff back in the DVDs.

And I love musicals. I'm incredibly happy to be in a city that's "the third largest theatre city in the world", behind New York and London. Toronto has put on fantastic performances of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Tommy, Cats, The Lion King, and so many more... heck Phantom of the Opera was a fixture here for over 9 years. There's been huge performances, small performances, great performances and horrible perfomances. The Drowsy Chaperone started here and was nominated for 13 Tonys this month. Even the small, "cult" shows are respected here, one of my favourites is Evil Dead 1 & 2: The Musical, which is going to New York later this year. My point is, I also like a big spectrum of theatre here, musical or otherwise.

So, pulling back from that digression - I'm a fan of LotR, and musicals, therefore, I was looking forward to this. but not without trepidation. We are talking about an epic being condensed in size and scale to fit on a stage in a reasonable amount of time.

So I saw it a couple weeks into its run. Reviews were lukewarm, and the cast seemed solid enough, with a few well-known Canadian theatre actors. 3 1/2 hours later, I walked out angry.

First, the positives. It is, without a doubt, the most impressive-LOOKING show I've ever seen. The Balrog is great, the scenery is well-done for the limited space they could work in, the props, the costumes, the staging, the lighting, and the sound are all incredible. The multi-elevator stage is well-used and adds aspects that would otherwise not be possible (Helm's Deep has levels, Caradhras is a mountain, etc.).

The acting is also generally very well done. Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Bilbo, and Saruman are all stand-outs. Most of the rest of the cast is perfectly fine in their roles.

Finally, the creators tried to get in at least a nod to everything in the books. Tom Bombadil is mentioned, the razing of the Shire takes place... but this is also a negative.

Now the negatives: Brent Carver's portrayal of Gandalf is weak however, he isn't commanding, he isn't insipiring.. not even when he returns as Gandalf the white (more on that later). I can't comment on Gimli or Legolas, as they're barely in the show. My biggest disappointment though was Galadriel. She was overacted, and instead of seeming regal and powerful, she felt as someone trying to be those things. In other words, she felt acted.

The songs... oh dear God in heaven, the songs. There were two that were any good at all. The first was a "jig" performed in the Prancing Pony, with a pretty impressive dance number to go with it... but it went far too long. The second was a simple campfire song sung by Frodo and Sam as they climbed Mount Doom. It was sweet, touching, and memorable. The rest were either forgettable, unoriginal, or ridiculous. As Galadriel sang "Lothlorien", I turned to my brother next to me and started singing "Aquarius"... if fit perfectly. The actually have a song at the beginning of the 3rd act called "The Return of The King." It's awful, and cheesy to have it there. I suggested "Hail to the King" from the Evil Dead musical. There was the big, call the armies to war song... they might as well have called it "One Day More" or "Red and Black". A muscial of this scale needs memorable themes... this one didn't.

The butchering of the plot. Let me sum up the editing process: "Everyone survives? Cut it." I don't think I could list everything that was changed if I tried. Here's a sampling:

- Gandalf returns in the middle of Helm's Deep. No, he doesn't come back from gathering the Ents.. he comes back from the dead (but he brings the Ents anyway). That's right... Gandalf the White doesn't appear until he saves everyone. This means it is up to Aragorn to being Theoden from his "sleep"... how? By showing him Narsil. Yup, the mere sight of the sword that was broken breaks Saruman's spell. Oh, and the whole scene takes about 10 seconds.

- The mines of Moria. The creature from the lake outside the gates? They run away from it before it appears. They rush through the mines, and then face the Balrog. Granted, the Balrog is freakin' awesome.

- Weathertop - huh? What weathertop. Frodo gets stabbed at the Prancing Pony you know.

- Poor Glorfindel gets the shaft again. This time though, it's Elrond who washes out the riders.

- Gimli and Legolas are little more than props. This isn't a knock on the actors, but the fact that the characters were practically inconsequential.

- I can't remember if Faramir was even in it. I'm pretty sure Denethor wasn't.. or was at least marginalized extremely.

- All kinds of battles and confrontations are removed or shortened. Particularly if everyone survives.

- The Razing of the Shire - "Sharkey" and his men are all in Matrix garb. Black trenchcoats and black clothes. It's completely out of sync with the theme.

3 1/2 hours, and they managed to get almost none of the story across. It was confusing as hell. If anyone who wasn't familiar with at least the movies saw it, they'd be lost. It was obvious that someone important had no love for the source material, be it the writers, producers, or director I don't know, but the show lacked heart and lacked any meaningful connection to the story itself.

I walked out, compared notes with friends a few days later, and we all agreed... we could have written a better show. Give us the tech guys who did all the visuals and sound, $26 million, and we'd make something that was at least enjoyable. Or maybe I would have enjoyed it if I'd brought ear plugs.

So in short, no, Mr. Mirvish, it's not the critics' fault the show failed. It's the fact the show was godawful and its redeeming values weren't enough to cover the glaringly obvious deficiencies. The show sucked, and I can only hope that the London production fixes some of these problems. They have the time.