Bored Of The Rings?

While the granddaughter of English author J.R.R. Tolkien praised the $25 million theatrical production of “The Lord of the Rings” in Toronto after a review performance March 28th, hers was nearly a lone voice amid scathing reviews of the quasi-musical.

The much-anticipated production is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre, which is owned by the show’s producer, Mirvish & Co.

The play, which is co-produced by Rolling Stones promoter Michael Cohl, is considered the most expensive theatrical production in history.

The New York Times called the production “a murky, labyrinthine wood from which no one emerges with head unmuddled, eyes unblurred or eardrums unrattled.”

The Toronto Star dubbed it “Bored of the Rings,” and an Associated Press theatre critic called the production “a case of imagination overwhelmed by complexity.”

Still, observers don’t expect the poor reviews to affect the production’s commercial potential thanks to its built-in audience. Director Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” has grossed $3 billion worldwide, and Tolkien’s books continue be required reading for fantasy lit enthusiasts.

Despite their general panning, critics lauded the set designs and costuming, noting it’s no small feat to reproduce epic battle scenes and raging orcs on a theatre stage. Ticket sales doubled after the review, Mirvish told the Toronto Star, and British investors are reportedly excited about the show’s London debut in 2007.

“The Lord of the Rings,” with music provided by Bollywood master A.R. Rahman and Finnish folk group Varttina, is hoped to bring a shot in the arm to Toronto’s theatre and tourism industry, which lost an estimated $1 billion after the 2003 SARS scare.

Rachel Tolkien praised the show for being true to the books – or at least as true as it can be for a reduction of a sprawling trilogy into a three-and-a-half-hour play.

“The set is incredible, the costumes are beautiful,” she said, adding that “The Hobbit” was first read to her with she was 6 years old. “Everything to me that is the most important, and the most moving in the book, they’ve gotten on the stage.”

Former Toronto Mayor David Crombie expressed optimism before the curtain went up.

“Before SARS, we were on an upward trajectory, and I think this is a terrific reminder that we’re back.”