Toronto’s ‘Rings’ sings on epic scale

55-member cast will have nine weeks of rehearsal

TORONTO — It’s a really big show, Mr. Frodo, sir.

From the initial announcement of its C$27 million ($23 million) budget and international co-production, it was always obvious that the stage version of “The Lord of the Rings” wasn’t going to be an intimate sort of event.

But now that full rehearsals have finally begun, the exact size and scope of the enterprise are becoming clearer. And it’s even larger than many people had anticipated.

The Kevin Wallace Prodn., presented by Wallace and Saul Zaentz, in association with David and Ed Mirvish and Michael Cohl, is operating out of a film studio near the waterfront because no conventional theater space can house the sprawling activities.

Some of the 55-member cast actually began work four weeks ago on “special skills,” to train them for the stilt work, combat activity, etc., that the show will demand.

For the rest of the ensemble, Oct. 24 began the first of nine weeks of rehearsal before they head into the Princess of Wales Theater for an unprecedented (for Canada) 5½-week period of onstage technical preparation.

After that, there will be eight weeks of previews, starting Feb. 2, with the gala opening set for March 23.

In all, 531 people are working under the overall direction of Matthew Warchus to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth to the stage.

In addition to the cast (headed by Tony winner Brent Carver as Gandalf), that figure includes an orchestra of 18, conducted by Rick Fox, and a running crew currently anticipated at 40.

There will be 519 elaborate costumes, encompassing everything from wizards to elves with, of course, the beloved hobbits represented prominently as well.

But, without question, the most spectacular single element of “Rings” is its set, designed by Rob Howell.

The structure is a giant revolve, consisting of three interconnected turntables, containing 17 separate lifts, with a total weight of 40 metric tons. Some of the set was pre-built in the U.K. and it took 20 massive 40 ft. super-cube containers to get it across the Atlantic.

The production is now being billed as an “epic” or “a play with music,” rather than a conventional musical. Its score is by the Finnish group Varttina, Indian composer A.R. Rahman and British musical supervisor Christopher Nightingale. The final product is estimated to run 3½ hours with two intermissions.

In another unconventional move, members of the Toronto company of “Rings” have already filmed a television commercial, which will launch on Nov. 28. Usually, such support follows after the show has opened.

The Toronto tourism market may be hoping that “Rings” will be the largest hit in the city’s history, but is already taking comfort in the fact that it’s clearly the biggest show.

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