Review | The Hobbit: more action than inspiration

Childrens Theatre Co., through April 14

In The Children’s Theatre Company‘s world premiere production of J.R.R Tolkien‘s famous The Hobbit has many things going for it. Adapted for stage and directed by Greg Banks, with music by Thomas Johnson, the show has an inexhaustible cast of only five actors who plow through a multitude of roles. Their energy is infectious as they portray adventurers who scale rocky paths, climb into the depths of mountains and fly through the air with the aid of eagles. They are led by Dean Holt as the hobbit, one Bilbo Baggins by name. He has enough of an impish grin and innocent demeanor to be well suited for the part.

For those not familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular fairy tale, the plot centers on a group of desperate dwarves who need Bilbo Baggins to help them overcome numerous foes in order to reclaim a treasure of gold and silver guarded by a fire breathing dragon.

Johnson’s music keeps up a steady underscore of momentum and the cast only rarely breaks out into short songs. Perhaps the best of these is “Don’t Leave the Path,” with lyrics by Banks and Johnson. It is so good it left me wishing it had gone on a bit longer. Musicians Victor Zupanc and Bill Olson comprise the very good two-person orchestra who keep everything humming.

The set (designed by the resourceful Joseph Stanley) is a wonder of steps and spires, slabs of grey rock and hidden chambers all fashioned in a dilapidated manner to give the impression of a post-conflict depression, aided by numerous lighting effects (designed by Nancy Schertler).

What the play lacks is an inspired Gandalf, a key character in Tolkien’s story. Gandalf in this production is not a shape-shifting wizard but kind of matronly neighbor who stops by to ask a favor. This isn’t so much actor Joy Dolo’s fault as it is Banks’. Even her costume as the powerful wizard is shapeless. Without a strong Gandalf to carry the story’s theme Holt’s Hobbit grows in confidence but not wisdom throughout the course of the two hour play. This is unfortunate and leaves one thinking a lot of energy has been spent for little more than slam-bam entertainment.

Tolkien wrote this story in the early 1930’s, after the devastation of World War I and during the worldwide depression. It became popular in this country during the Vietnam War. Now parents and grandparents can introduce a new generation of young ones to the thrill of this fanciful and heartfelt tale about the dangers of greed and the pleasures of reconciliation. This production buries the intention of the tale in episode after episode of conflict. Perhaps this can be remedied in future productions, until then it will be up to the parents who care about such things to connect the dots for their young ones.

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