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Theater Review (LA): Fellowship!

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Lord of the Rings lovers, rejoice — the perennial spoof of Fellowship of the Rings, simply titled Fellowship!, is back in Los Angeles for a 12-week run.

Winner of a 2010 Saturn Award as well as L.A. Weekly’s 2005 Musical of the Year, Fellowship! is an ingeniously staged and performed sendup of Tolkein’s first “Rings” installment and — more directly — of Peter Jackson’s 2001 blockbuster film adaptation of the same.

More or less faithfully following the structure of the film, Fellowship! opens at Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday party, where Frodo takes possession of the ring and is charged with taking it to the evil kingdom of Mordor to destroy it. He is joined by others on his quest, and they form a fellowship to ensure that the deed is done.

But the basic story is the only thing that stays intact. Here, Chris Tallman portrays Bilbo as a Borscht Belt comedian, zinging his audience with ancient groaners. Peter Allen Vogt, as Frodo’s devoted manservant, Sam, makes it clear just how deeply his devotions to his master run. Pippin (Lauren Pritchard) is the life of the party, getting credit for every good accomplishment whether he’s had anything to do with them or not, and poor Merry (Ryan Smith) is never remembered by any of the other characters, even though he’s been with them the entire time.

Cory Rouse brings a wide-eyed naïveté to Frodo (who keeps forgetting to take the ring with him), and Matthew Stephen Young is a hoot as the dude-speaking Strider, whose pig-Elvish conversations with Arwen (Kelly Holden-Bashar) are hilarious. Cedric Yarbrough brings a winking gravitas to his performance as Gandalf, and Lisa Fredrickson and Holden-Bashar round out the cast as Gimli and Legolas.

With music by Allen Simpson and lyrics credited to the entire cast, Fellowship! features fine vocal work and clever songs, highlighted by Vogt’s campy “Balrog Blues” and Young’s riotous power ballad with Holden-Bashar, “One Moment (With You)”.

Joel McCrary and Holden-Bashar’s book is peppered with pop culture references and is updated regularly to keep things topical (there was a welcome Hunger Games gag the night I attended). The staging is simple, with video projections mapping the group’s progress and a close-up of somebody’s wildly rolling eye standing in for the sinister orb of Sauron. Hand puppets are utilized for flashback scenes, and the surprisingly detailed costuming preserves the spirit of the piece while adding a silliness all its own.

Fellowship! is a production that satisfies both camps. If you live and breathe LOTR, you’ll laugh. If you’d rather die than sit through the trilogy again, you’ll laugh. (It should be noted that the understudies portrayed Pippin and Arwen/Legolas the night I attended, but I’m sure the regulars are funny, too.)

Fellowship! plays at Trepany House at the Steve Allen Theatre Fridays at 8 and 11 p.m. until June 29. Reservations can be made online.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.