The Lord of the Rings -- Original London Cast Recording (Kevin Wallace Music, 2008)

Back in 2006, I got to see the theatrical production of The Lord of the Rings that premiered in Toronto that year. While I gave it a mostly favorable review, the show was not particularly well received by critics in general. Eventually the show opened in London as well, to a more favorable response. And unlike the Toronto cast, the London cast got to record the music of the play.

The lyrics for the songs in The Lord of the Rings were written by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus. The music for the play came from the Indian composer A. R. Rahman and the Finnish folk group Värttinä, with some assistance from the musical supervisor Christopher Nightingale. Nightingale wanted from the outset to use a lot of world music in the play, not just to portray the rustic folksiness of the hobbits, but also to best capture the peculiarities of the other races in Tolkien's world and the dark forces at work in many of the scenes.

As anybody familiar with the story would expect, the music covers the full range of the emotional spectrum. "The Cat and the Moon," sung by the hobbits in The Prancing Pony, is a boisterous romp faithfully modeled on Tolkien's song from the book. By contrast, the loud, dissonant female voices heard from offstage in "Flight to the Ford" convey the intensity of the desperate run to Rivendell that Strider and the hobbits make with the Dark Riders in close pursuit. On the sentimental "Now and for Always," McKenna and Warchus do a fine job of capturing the spirit of the conversation between Frodo and Sam as they rest far above the city of Minas Morgul.

My biggest criticism of The Lord of the Rings is that it has a split personality. At its best, it represents a bold marriage of a classic story to music based on the same folklore and myths that inspired Tolkien in the first place, and in many ways it is truer to the spirit of the books than Peter Jackson's movies were. But there are also plenty of formulaic musical theater clichés thrown in for good measure, like an overwrought duet between Aragorn and Arwen, that I really couldn't be bothered with. Still, the producers deserve plenty of credit for taking some chances with the play, especially with the music. Like the play itself, the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings is flawed but still worthy of the attention of people who like the story.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

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