(3 of 4)
To guarantee fidelity to the source, Wallace and crew consulted with a Tolkien expert and a scholar in "Elvish." (True to Tolkien's Oxford career as a professor of ancient languages, the show contains snatches of two Elvish dialects plus English and Old English.) The team debated which characters in the canon might be excluded without damaging the story or outraging fans. Treebeard and his fellow Ents were out, then in. (Good thing too: Toronto audiences clearly cherish Treebeard.) Wormtongue, King Theoden's adviser, was in, then out. A reference to Tom Bombadil survived a cut to one scene last Friday. The one major character absent is Faramir, brother of the warrior Boromir.
The show was originally planned to open in London, but the right venue was elusive. Wallace didn't want New York City as a launching pad. "It's such a fickle place," he says, alluding to the shift in the tone of Broadway musicals from dead serious (Les Miz, Phantom, Stephen Sondheim shows) to unabashedly frivolous (The Producers, Hair-spray, Spamalot). Chicago was a possibility but a dark horse; Toronto was offering a better package: C$3 million from Ontario, C$3 million from Toronto, a barter deal with Air Canada. The idea is to make Toronto a holiday destination--for LOTR to lure tourists, as Cirque du Soleil brings visitors to Las Vegas. (The scheme may be working: of the advance-sale ticket buyers, 23% are from the U.S.) Wallace also got fat checks from two local producer groups, David and Ed Mirvish and Michael Cohl. With the money Zaentz put in and raised from other sources, Wallace had finally found a home for his show.
And Warchus and Nightingale had hit on a strange solution for a score that wouldn't sound like old Broadway: split the songwriting chores between A.R. Rahman, the best-selling composer of Indian musical films, and the Finnish World Music group Varttina. Nightingale ran up his frequent-flyer miles jetting between London, Madras and Helsinki. In the end, Rahman was the main writer of the Elvish songs for Galadriel and Arwen, as well as the battle music for the scenes in the Marshes and Mordor. Varttina was mainly responsible for a rousing drinking song in the Inn at Bree and for the nostalgic ballad, Now and for Always--sung by Frodo and his friend Sam--and for a few bars by Gollum. Some pieces, like the anthem for the Helm's Deep siege, are, Nightingale says, "a totally collaborative effort."
In the first act, the show is laden with songs, in the manner of a conventional musical--except that some are so ethereal they are, as one hobbit says, "like wine for the ears." But as the tale darkens and deepens, LOTR turns into musical drama, with songs replaced by underscoring of the battles. And Frodo is never forced to belt out, "It don't mean a thing/ If I ain't got that ring."