Review: 'Fellowship!' at the Falcon Theatre
With epic satiric irreverence, "Fellowship!" advances its quest for cult greatness at the Falcon Theatre. Kelly Holden-Bashar, Joel McCrary and Allen Simpson's sublimely silly spoof of "The Fellowship of the Ring" bears all the earmarks -- and dancing hairy ankles -- of an incipient classic of its genre.
That would be travesty, on whose basic tenets "Fellowship!" carries enough native wit to grab the gold ring. The 2005 premiere production at the El Portal Forum Theatre won L.A. Weekly Awards for best musical and comedy ensemble. It's understandable. Less a sendup of J.R.R. Tolkien's first "Lord of the Rings" novel than a freewheeling riff on Peter Jackson's film adaptation, "Fellowship!" understands that parody requires affection for its targets to effectively skewer them.
After a loopy projected prologue, the mayhem begins in Hobbiton, where the locals fete a certain 111-year-old Baggins with "Happy Birthday, Bilbo." This insanely catchy polka climaxes with tap-dancing hobbits, and all bets are off. Thus, hero Frodo is stuck with that pesky ring of power and an uneasy passel of fanciful coevals charged with destroying it. If Tolkien/Jackson devotees will get maximum rewards from the in-jokes that pepper McCrary and Holden-Bashar's book, uninitiated audiences have much to enjoy for its own sake.
For instance, there's McCrary's garage-show-inventive direction, from battling stick puppet wizards to the Eye of Sauron as bloodshot close-up (courtesy of Armand Bashar's tickling videos). Or the wacky effect of Michele Spears' choreography, which revels in trenches and fan-kicks, power-ballad poses and hair moves. Simpson's purposely derivative tunes -- with lyrics credited to "everybody" -- have an unpretentious bounce, thanks to the unflagging improvisational aplomb of a marvelous cast.
Cory Rouse, who co-musical directs with Simpson, makes a delightfully straight-faced Frodo, the fulcrum of an unpredictable band of zanies. First among equals is Peter Allen Vogt, whose lovelorn Sam earns perhaps the wildest guffaws, while his late-inning drag-cabaret take on the Balrog merges Zero Mostel with Mama Cass on acid.
Groundlings veteran Edi Patterson is a posturing stitch as archer Legolas, particularly against Lisa Fredrickson's scenery-chewing Gimli. Moreover, Patterson's post-Celine Dion attitudes as Arwen make "One Moment (With You)," her duet with Matthew Stephen Young's pricelessly dude-speaking, guitar-wielding Strider/Aragorn, another high point.
Actually, there are many high points, whether it's Steve Purnick playing Bilbo as Borscht Belt headliner and Boromir as Jay Ward cartoon, or Brian D. Bradley depicting Gandalf and Galadriel as apposite Pythonesque energies. And the running gags involving Ryan Smith's ever-misidentified Merry and Holden-Bashar's cornball-chipper Pippin accrue surefire comic heft with each repetition.
The designs are deliberately hardscrabble, Matt Gourley's faux-stone platform giving just enough background for Mike Jesperson's lighting and Sandra Burns' costumes to register. Some singing is variable, but if there is a flaw, it's that the narrative weight thins out by the three-quarters mark -- an intermission after the hilarious title number seems advisable. Then again, so are future adaptations of the remaining entries in Tolkien's trilogy, judging by the knee-slapping Middle-earth delirium that "Fellowship!" continually generates.
-- David C. Nichols
"Fellowship!," Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 12. $27.50 to $35. (818) 955-8101 or www.falcontheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Caption: From left, Peter Allen Vogt, Cory Rouse, Kelly Holden-Bashar and Ryan Smith in "Fellowship!" Credit: Mark Baer