Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fellowship! The Musical Parody of "The Fellowship of the Ring"

Men and Hobbits  
(Matthew Young, Peter Allen Vogt, Cedric Yarbrough, Cory Rouse, Ryan Smith and Chris Tallman.)  
©Blake Gardner Photography 2012
Kumquat Inc., Lyle Kanouse, Anne Street Skipper, Sarah Dandashy in association with Trepany House at the Steve Allen Theater present The Remarkable Brass Group, LLC production

Review by Andrew Moore

Fellowship! is a broad, Mel Brooksian parody that riffs on Tolkien's book and Peter Jackson's movie.  This show has been drowned in awards, praise, sold-out houses and more critical brown-nosing than all the community newspaper ads in the world could possibly buy.  Which only makes me wonder:  Why invite Mad Theatrics out to see it?  What could we possibly add?  My conclusion:  They will not rest until they rule us all.

The design work is spartan but cleverly rendered. There are moments that reach the heights of cleverness, coming wonderfully close to Monty Python.  I'm thinking particularly of the Arwen/Nazg├╗l sequence, the Gandalf/Saurumon flashback, and the final battle.  Basically, if it was a set-piece in the movie, the team behind this play pulled out funny, theatrical solutions that leave the audience hot and sweaty with laughter

One design element that deserves special mention is the use of projections.  On a screen reminiscent of parchment, the prologue unrolls with clever visual jokes.  Throughout the play as the characters progress through Middle Earth, crisp and clean animations take us across a stylized version of the familiar Tolkien maps.  Fellowship! has the best integration of video projection this reviewer has seen in Los Angeles intimate theater.  Producers wishing to include such an element in their own shows would do well to see this show and chat up the production team for the name of their show control solution.  It is perfect.

I really dug into the cast bios at intermission, and found myself thinking, "Oh shit -- these guys know what they're doing."  Solid comedic pros with roots in improv and sketch, they play off each other with ease.  Even the understudies mesh.  I would not have known there were understudies in the show had it not been for the program insert.

Stand-outs:  Lisa Fredrickson who disappears into her beard as Gimli, Peter Allen Vogt who owns the audience as both Sam and the Balrog, and of course Cedric Yarbrough.  Yarbrough is having the time of his life as Gandalf and Galadriel, turning in an occasionally unhinged performance.  There is a sense of danger in his improvised lines and asides, but he never lets it get away from him.
The Balrog has the Blues ... (Peter Allen Vogt)  
©Blake Gardner Photography 2012

Joel McCrary holds the keys to this nuthouse, and he's gleefully letting the inmates out to play.  Oh, he doesn't let them go too far.  Like any good director of comedy, McCrary knows when to rein in the madness and when to let it reign supreme.

If this were simply an evening of great comedic actors cracking wise at Tolkien's expense, it would be enough.  But composer and co-lyricist Allen Simpson brought his considerable chops to the piece and it is filled with surprisingly intricate music -- themes that repeat, harmonies that ring, soulful descants that elevate the audience.

The lyrics are damned clever, the product (one assumes) of much collaboration, pitching and punching up of jokes, etc.  Given the number of co-lyricists credited (Brian D. Bradley, Lisa Fredrickson, Kelly Holden-Bashar, Joel McCrary, Edi Patterson, Steve Purnick, Cory Rouse, Ryan Smith, Peter Allen Vogt, Matthew Stephen Young, and the aforementioned Allen Simpson) my guess is they put the songs together the way a sketch comedy troupe would put together a show.  There is not one wasted opportunity.

In general, everyone attached to Fellowship! is striving to fill in the little moments; to take two very broad theatrical forms -- sketch and musical -- and make them specific and immediate.  It pays off in a show that is LIVE, in all capital letters.  

One issue that really needs to be resolved:  The show needs to be body mic'd.  I understand the difficulty this might present, given the rapidity and  number of costume changes, but there were moments when the lyrics were lost.  For someone familiar with the story (and who isn't familiar with the story?) this is a mere annoyance, but it's a shame to have any such moments in an evening as delightful as Fellowship! proves to be.

YOU SHALL NOT MISS!

Fellowship! The Musical Parody of "The Fellowship of the Ring" plays every Friday night at 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm through June 29th; and at least one Saturday night, June 2nd at 8:00 pm.  Admission is $30 for the 8:00 pm show, $25 for the 11:00 pm show. Students with IDs get in for $20. And if you come in costume, tickets are only $10. Thursdays and Sundays, $30 on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets are available online.  The Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry is located at 4773 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, and has ample parking in a lot behind the building -- however, be aware that this is a very popular show, and the lot may fill up rather quickly.  Get there early.

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