Tablet Life & Arts

Theater review: ‘Fellowship!’ at Circle Theatre

This show has a familiar ring to it, but you are probably not going to recognize it on sight.

That’s because Fellowship!, the seriously goofy send-up of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring and its film incarnation which opened last week at Circle Theatre, twists and distorts its source material in so many guffaw-inducing ways that you might not know whether you are in the middle of Middle-earth or just lost in the Shire.

This big-footed, musical parody, with a book by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary and music by Allen Simpson, opens with a fart joke and then earnestly strives not to exceed that level of intellect for the rest of the way. It succeeds gloriously in that endeavor with a clever mix of groaner puns (“You’re a hard hobbit to break,” is the sort of line you should be prepared for), silly songs, and prancing and dancing that even includes some tap work on oversize bare feet.

The story is well-known to almost everyone — except me. My knowledge of the Tolkien trilogy is based entirely on listening to college classmates talk about it, and catching bits of the movies while channel surfing. But, fortunately, that gap in my cultural education is no liability with this show.

Bilbo Baggins (one of the roles taken by Randy Pearlman) has this ring that he decides to give to the story’s hero, Frodo (Clint Gilbert). The ring is highly coveted because it has magic powers, probably like those mood rings that were all the rage so many years ago. So it is decided that Frodo must make a long, dangerous trek just so he can throw it away (huh?).

To this end, he enlists the aide of his overly devoted pal, Sam (Christian Sanders); a Merlin-like wizard, Gandalf (Ben Phillips); and a motley crew of hangers-on that amount to a sort of vertically challenged Keystone Kops. They include the agile archer Arwen (Kelsey Milbourn), the bold and dashing Strider (Greg Hullett), the Viking-esque Gimli (Suzanna Fox) and the ever-annoying Pippin (Brett Warner).

There is also another character, Merry, listed in the program, but he is never seen and makes no contributions to Frodo’s adventure. However, as odd as it may seem, Michael McMillan is outstanding as this nonappearing member of the team. He takes invisibility to new heights.

This strong, well-balanced cast provides a number of memorable performances and moments in this broad swipe at a story so great that it is apparently now responsible for a major part of New Zealand’s economy. Pearlman, who is one of only three members of the cast who has previously worked at Circle, has a tremendous amount of fun with both Bilbo and the evil (at least at first) Balrog. Gilbert makes an ideal Frodo, despite his height. And Phillips is also perfectly cast as Gandalf, the reluctant ringmaster for this circus.

But if there is any one scene and pair of performances that stands out from the rest, it is Hullett and Milbourn’s delivery of One Moment (With You), an intentionally overwrought power ballad that is as hilarious in its execution as it is in its composition.

Director Lyle Kanouse, a Texas Wesleyan grad who has enjoyed a wide-ranging, 38-year career of stage, film and television work across the country, does of an excellent job of maintaining a consistent level of mock-seriousness in the show’s tone. And, since no choreographer is acknowledged, he must deserve the credit for making his players move so well. His only misstep is that he allows Sanders’ interpretation of Sam (which is solid at its core) to be too busy and fussy on the surface.

There are also some nice supporting elements. The musical accompaniment is minimal (just Kristin Spires on piano and Mark Howard on drums), but the work is both tuneful and timely. And the costumes and video projections by McCrary add a great deal to a show that hardly has a set at all.

So you won’t be a bit smarter after chuckling all the way through this foolishness. If anything, you are likely to leave the theater knowing less about Tolkien’s book than when you went in. But while the characters may be no taller than some of Snow White’s best friends, they offer no shortage of laughs while trying to unload their enchanted jewelry.

FELLOWSHIP!

Through Nov. 22

Circle Theatre

230 W. Fourth St.

Fort Worth

7:30 Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday

$20-$40

817-877-3040; www.circletheatre.com

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