For lovers of Hobbits and the magical realms of Tolkien, “A Tale of Fellowship: The Musical” is a rare and delightful gem, brimming with hidden stories and unexpected Easter eggs that peel back the layers of your beloved tales. This extraordinary production, staged as a concert, unfolds with a staggering 14 enchanting songs in Act 1, followed by captivating 12 in Act 2 – a musical compilation that sweeps you away into the heart of Middle-earth.
But this musical is not just about Hobbits, Elves, or even the academic brilliance of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a celebration of the extraordinary power of friendship and the unwavering support of kindred souls, especially among creative souls.
The show unearths the lesser-known chapter of Tolkien’s life: his youth, the formation of the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), his serendipitous encounter with his future wife, and the tumultuous era of the First World War. While Wikipedia might relegate this to a mere prologue in Tolkien’s life story, “A Tale of Fellowship” magnificently elevates it to the main stage, all meticulously crafted and composed by self-proclaimed Tolkien enthusiast, Joseph Purdue.
This production is more than just a musical; it’s a passion project brought to life through a Kickstarter campaign, born from an unbridled love for the man who “forever changed the world with his artistry.” From the personal introduction by Purdue himself to the cast and creators who pieced together this performance in a matter of days, the production exudes camaraderie, pride, and pure joy, making it a heartwarming spectacle for a chilly autumn evening.
Vocally, a Masterpiece
Vocally, it stands as a standalone masterpiece. The concert format necessitates that the actors’ voices and the music bear the weight of storytelling without the crutch of costumes or elaborate sets. Here, it’s executed to perfection, featuring a stellar cast delivering impeccable performances. Purdue invited young West End stars to join this special project – and we got treated to a set of fantastic voices, with no weak link present in the cast.
Music that Echoes Tolkien’s Epic Tales
The music, reminiscent of Tolkien’s epic tales, leans towards the orchestral side, laced with the enchanting melodies of the violin and harp that infuse a mythical essence. This symphonic approach finds its true moments of glory, particularly when evoking themes of war and the anticipation of pivotal battles. The music at times reminded me of shows like “Hunchback of Notre Dame” or “Prince of Egypt” – with the same kind of grand feel.
The second act brought a refreshing change in the musical tone, introducing gentler interludes that skillfully interrupted the succession of anthems and wartime compositions. Although it delved deeper into themes of war and loss, it also incorporated simple, energetic choreography that brought added movement to the aisles of St. Paul’s Church, enhancing the overall depth and impact of the performance.
The musical score, in its entirety, could effortlessly double as the soundtrack for one of Tolkien’s pieces. However, this opulent and earnest approach tends to render the story consistently serious, occasionally overlooking the opportunities for humour and levity that punctuated the Hobbits’ lives in the Shire. In the first act, a sprinkling of mirth and lightheartedness would have been a welcomed addition, especially during the T.C.B.S. meetings scenes – I counted maybe 2 moments when the audience laughed during the show, which is a good start, but not enough to balance the serious vibe of the story as a whole.
A Stellar Cast that Elevates the Tale
The casting is a masterstroke. Soophia Foroughi, who graces the stage as Tolkien’s mother, entrances the audience with a breathtaking opening song, setting the perfect tone for the unfolding tale. Aidan Cutler, portraying G.B Smith, delivers a solemn, at times operatic performance that surprises given his character’s “fun” disposition within the Fellowship. Sake Wijers, as Tolkien, lends his magnificent voice to guide the audience through the scenes of his extraordinary life and delivers impeccable solos.
Fine-Tuning the Script and Character Dynamics
While the music shines, the script and character interactions require some fine-tuning. The tone of speech feels somewhat robotic and devoid of the emotion that these characters should convey. Understandably, the era is marked by more formal communication, primarily through letters rather than in-person conversations, but a touch more warmth and depth in vocal delivery could enhance the overall narrative.
“A Tale of Fellowship: The Musical” is an enchanting journey through the lesser-known chapters of Tolkien’s life, generously seasoned with magnificent music and heartwarming camaraderie. This extraordinary theatrical treasure offers Tolkien enthusiasts and novices alike a unique experience, bridging the gap between the captivating tales of Middle-earth and the creator himself. It’s a must-see, as precious as the One Ring.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review.
A Tale of Fellowship
20-21 October 2023
St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden
Joseph Purdue – Book, music and lyrics
Jacob Wolstencroft – Director
Ben Garnett – Musical Director