In the wake of the Toronto opening of a stage version of The Lord of the Rings back in March that I attended, I blogged here about the difficulties it was going to face after the mostly hostile local press reception it received… and commented that it was also playing in a city “where the local population isn’t huge, the tourists aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, and the theatre seats 2,000”.
Yesterday the closing notice was posted for the show to end its Toronto run on September 3, by which time it will have played 230 performances in 31 weeks. WIth the huge local investment that was made in the show — including from the local government — there are going to be a lot of people licking their financial wounds on this one. The political spin, however, is that the production needs be to measured in more than just base line costs: according to the closing notice release, the show “generated an unprecedented amount of coverage from international media, highlighting Toronto’s creative communities. By September 3rd, more than 420,000 people will have attended the show, some coming from as far away as Asia, South America and throughout Europe. It is estimated that by its closing date, The Lord of the Rings will have generated an economic impact of more than $640 million to Toronto and the province of Ontario.”
But what’s interesting is that, less than a week before this closing notice arrived, last Friday saw the announcement of the show’s London opening for next June at Drury Lane: of course, we have a far bigger audience catchment area than Toronto here, but the stakes — and the mistake of Toronto, as it must now seem — are being driven even higher (not to mention ticket prices, which are expected to top out at £60). It can’t afford to fail, in any sense, once again. But if mistakes have been made, at least they got the order of their announcements right: it could have been fatal to announce the opening of a London Rings after it was already known that the Toronto one was closing. As it is, the producers are going to have to fight the perception that they are importing a flop.
Meanwhile, further to my blog of yesterday, Cameron Mackintosh might have been quietly confident that he was importing a known hit, even though I feared how my colleagues might respond. And true to our collective perversity, those fears have, alas, been borne out. There’s definitely something grudging in the London critical tribe being faced with a show that has already been deemed a hit elsewhere: according to the Daily Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, “either something has been lost in translation or this dinkily alternative but incredibly light-weight affair, staged now with a mainly British cast, was never as much cop as its New York admirers have been claiming…. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s tame beast of a show lumbers up a cul-de-sac of one-note satire before hitting a brick wall of anodyne schmaltz. By the second half I found myself mentally rechristening it Avenue ZZZ.” Myself, I was a fan in New York and found it just as much cop here as there. And despite having arrived in town from New York only yesterday, it kept me fully awake….