RING IT ON!
I hadn’t read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring since junior high, and the movie, which is the first installment of Peter Jackson’s gorgeous film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, left me bewildered at best. To say then that trepidations accompanied me to a musical parody of the popular book and movie is an understatement. The great news about Fellowship! is that anyone who hasn’t even heard of the source material, now being lampooned at the Steve Allen Theater, is in for one of the most solidly entertaining and delightful theatre experiences you will ever discover.
Bilbo Baggins (a Borsht-Belt Chris Tallman), the Hobbit that started it all, suddenly disappears after his 111th birthday, leaving his cousin and adopted nephew Frodo (Cory Rouse) to deal with a vexatious malevolent ring, one which is sought after by its owner Sauron (played by a giant, bloodshot eye), who lost the ring, but now desires it for, you know, unrestrained world supremacy. Egged on by the wacky wizard Gandalf (Reno 911’s Cedric Yarbrough), Frodo embarks on a journey to lose the ring, joined by his friend Sam, (Peter Allen Vogt, who actually wants to be more than Frodo’s friend), Merry (Ryan Smith) and the pun-cracking Pippin (Lauren Pritchard). Along the way, they pick up the cantankerous dwarf Gimli (Lisa Fredrickson), and macho warriors Arwen (Kelly Holden-Bashar) and Strider (Mark Gagliardi), who dazzled with their number “One Moment (With You),” achieving well-earned guffaws from an enthusiastic crowd. Don’t be concerned about following the story: a drop-down screen offers tittilating multi-media explanations of how and where this all takes place.
The show has been around for some time, winning the L.A. Weekly Award in 2005 for Best Musical, but it seems certain there will be an afterlife in regions beyond for this knee-slapping, finger-snapping, toe-tapping odyssey (agreeable music by Allen Simpson, and inventive pastiche choreography by Michele Spears). Joel McCrary (who co-wrote the book with Holden-Bashar) directs this cheerful band with necessary restraint, even as the cast (serving double-duty in other roles) is allowed to improvise (Vogt, in particular, takes the art form to new heights as he wisecracks with audience members during his take as the devilish Balrog in “The Balrog Blues”). Also keeping the actors in line is Sarah Taylor Ellis’ seemingly effortless but very tight piano-playing. Considering the lyrics are credited to eleven ensemble members, it’s an incredible achievement how clever and funny they are, as if they were created by one mind.
I attended the 11:00 pm performance and – after a long and draining day – became ever more alert during the 2 and ½ hour running time. There is no greater accolade than that. Fellowship! is theatrical Red Bull.
Just to prove how little you need to know about the source material. After the rousing Act One closing number, my Tolkien-challenged companion turned to me and said, “Oh my God, that was great!” I asked, “Was?” To which he queried, “You mean it’s not over?” When I mentioned that it was intermission, he rubbed his hands together with glee, just like a kid whose been granted an extra hour at Disneyland.
photos by Blake Gardner
Fellowship! The Musical Parody of “The Fellowship of the Ring”
The Remarkable Brass Group, LLC at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on June 29, 2012
for tickets and info on future dates, visit http://www.fellowshipthemusical.com