Fort Worth — The best Lord of the Rings parody ever was in Kevin Smith’s Clerks II. But, Fellowship! The Musical Parody of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” with a book by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary, and music by Allen Simpson, gleefully trudging across the stage at Circle Theatre, is a close and hilarious second.
The first thing to note is that getting the show pretty much requires having seen the Peter Jackson film The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not being familiar with the characters and plot will kill a lot of the comedy.
That being said, the plot is that young hobbit Frodo Baggins (Clint Gilbert) inherits a magical and dangerous ring from his much older cousin Bilbo (Randy Pearlman). As the ring is dangerous and could bring about the end of the world, the great wizard Gandalf (Ben Phillips) helps Frodo form a team, the aforementioned Fellowship, to take the ring to Mount Doom and destroy it.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s books are ripe for parody. Heavy drama, weird names, weird creatures, an arduous quest with one of the most glaring plot holes in literary history. It’s all there. But, that actually makes creating a good parody difficult.
Thankfully, the authors have succeeded here. First, the songs are actually good and would stand up against anything in a traditional musical. The rock anthem between the awesome scene-stealing Strider (Greg Hullett) and the dynamic Arwen (Kelsey Milbourn), who also plays a great Legolas, is particularly fun.
Beyond that, the authors were good at finding small inconsistencies in the book or peculiar character traits, and amplifying them into great comedy. Sam’s (Christian Sanders) sexuality is ambiguous, as anyone who is familiar with Sean Astin’s portrayal in the movie will be familiar with. Strider is an 80’s-style hard rock badass. Gandalf is exceedingly dry. Legolas (Milbourn) and Gimli (Suzanna Fox) have an amusing rivalry.
The only joke that may be for only the hardcore fans, aside from a joke made specifically for people who read the books, is the peculiar situation of the other two hobbits Merry (Michael McMillan) and Pippin (Brett Warner). Everyone always forgets Merry’s name and Pippin gets all the credit for anything good that happens. Having seen the movie, I’m still not clear on where the joke comes from. But, their dedication to it makes it work.
The outlier is Pearlman. He gets to play three different roles and each is outstanding. As Bilbo he goes from a preening, jolly fellow to a bitter, enraged old man and somehow manages to make it funny. And, as the inside man antagonist Boromir, he makes skulking into a high art. But, nothing tops his performance as the monster Balrog. The Balrog gets a fun role to begin with. He’s portrayed as a lounge performer and all around prima donna who is simply upset because someone woke him up. Affecting a heavy dose of Nathan Lane, Pearlman struts and prances around the stage wearing glittery horns and all the self-centeredness of the most contemptible diva. It’s the funniest part of the entire production.
Pulling this show off requires getting a cast to buy into its silliness, and director Lyle Kanouse is able to do just that. The over-the-top dedication each performer has to their roles is admirable, especially considering how zany they are. No one holds back. Everything is at 100 percent, and that’s a tribute to Kanouse’s directing.
Kudos as well to the technical team. Led by Gina Farina’s set design, they rigged up a bridge that splits apart and smokes while projecting a red light that is both impressive and funny.
There are plenty of laughs to be had on the road to Mount Doom. Granted, it helps to have a frame of reference, but there’s enough there to enjoy for the casual observer. One thing is for certain: this show doesn’t feel near as long or difficult as reading the books or seeing the interminably long movies. This is actually a lot of fun for a story about walking.