24.1.08

Birthday Theatre Outings, Part the First

Wednesday night was Lord of the Rings. I hopped the tube to Embankment (not quite close to the theatre, but that was on purpose so I could walk around and dilly dally and look for a place to eat dinner) and had loads of time to kill. I wound up walking down The Strand, up to Covent Garden Market (where I was sort of looking for a bag for my upcoming trip), and around the area before I decided on dinner at a place called PJ's, a block or so away from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where the play was being performed. Dinner was ravioli for starters and steak for the main with a nice glass of Bordeaux (the first wine I've had since October) and it was pretty decent and not too expensive (the theatre district has loads of places with set menus for reasonable prices).

I was somewhat looking forward to the play as I'd heard some positive comments about it from people I know as well as reading some good stuff online about it. I'd read some negative remarks as well but was still hopeful. The production values were amazing... the stage was split into about 15 segments (making up a circle altogether) which rose as much as about 10 feet above stage level; the segments were used quite well to illustrate the walking, some fighting, and so on. The acting was fantastic. The practical effects were fantastic (the way they handled the Balrog and Spider Queen were great). I'd read this was among the most expensive productions staged outside of Las Vegas and it's easy to see there was some serious money spent on the setup.

Not all was rosy, however. The writing was terrible... just plain terrible. It's a tough thing to fit the Rings story into a 2 1/2 hour play, there's no doubt about that, but so much was glossed over it was hard to follow the story -- and I say that knowing the story! Many characters were omitted entirely, some key and cool plot points were skipped or glossed over, and the pacing was utterly disgusting. There's a lot of plot to get through, a lot of exposition that needs to take place, and not a lot of time in which to do it. However there was more than one time where the writers rushed through several plot points only to wind up at a dead standstill plotwise. The worst culprit was in the third act when after some rapid plot succession the whole production ground to a painful halt while Sam, Frodo and Gollum sat atop the mountain on the way to Mordor and sang of home. Okay, if this lasted a couple minutes maybe I could forgive it. But no, this was about 10 minutes of schlock. It was torturous.

And the songs... oh, the songs. First off, the play isn't a musical as such, rather a play with songs. Songs which were terrible. Songs which seemed very out of place. Songs which were poorly written and not in any way catchy (as songs in a play ought to be). I cringed every time a song began, but thankfully there weren't too many to deal with. Spamalot suffered from this somewhat, though the movie had a bunch of songs in it so you could cope at least. The songs, when considered as part of the writing as a whole, made the experience less than wonderful.

Overall I'd have to give the production a passing grade but only because of the non-writing technical elements. Staging/direction was great. Lighting was great. Writing... ugh. I would not recommend the production to anyone unless they wanted to go for the eye candy rather than the story.

Tonight, on the other hand, I went to see We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre (less than a stone's throw from Tottenham Court Road tube station) and holy crap did it rock. I'm one of those types who prefers to hear songs sung by the original group (with rare exception) so I didn't look forward to Joe Random Castmember singing songs I grew up with and have loved for 20+ years, and while some of the songs were less than stellar (such as Killer Queen being reworked to be in the first person) overall I didn't mind the fact very few of the tunes were proper Queen recordings.

The staging was capable; there was a lift at centre upstage which was used far, far too often to take characters offstage (taking them below stage level) but otherwise was fine. The story was a bit shit, but considering it's hobbled together as a means of taking the viewer from one Queen song to the next it was acceptable. Very little of this type of reworking actually, well, works... the benchmark is and may always be the wonderful movie for The Wall which had a very cohesive storyline developed around the music. It also helped that The Wall was written as a collection to tell a story rather than a mishmash of songs cobbled together from a 20+-year catalogue (and yes, WWRY does run the full gamut from Queen II and A Night at the Opera to Highlander to The Miracle and a whole bunch in between). And the whole thing is funny to boot. Wonderful humour and pop culture references (which get updated as the years go on, at least based on comparing what I saw to what was listed on the official website, as well as noticing characters being naked after recent phenomena like Amy Winehouse) keep the tone light.

One high point was that the sound engineer absolutely cranked the volume many, many times... and I thought that was damned perfect for what could be termed a Rock Opera.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wanted to have a fun night out, and at about 2 1/2 hours running time it's definitely a full night out to see it. I was very glad to have seen it.

Tomorrow is Dreamcoat, and I'll hopefully jot down some remarks about it, though since I've already done so from the first time I saw it, I might restrict remarks to differences (if any) I notice and the performance from Lewis Bradley who's taking over temporarily from Lee Mead.

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