When it comes to epic tales, J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Middle-earth universe certainly takes the cake. With numerous books, supplements, maps, and a trio of film trilogies (two live action and one animated), geeks have been inundated with material from this magical world for over 80 years. But getting new folks, especially kids, into The Hobbit can be a little difficult due to its length and density. Enter the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company and playwright/director Greg Banks.
Banks was challenged to adapt the story of The Hobbit not only for young audiences but with a cast of just five actors—a venture that might seem almost as impossible as taking the One Ring to Mount Doom. The play is told mostly from Bilbo’s perspective, as he is recruited by Gandalf to help a band of dwarves retake their mountain home before the entrance is lost. Along the treacherous expedition, they encounter goblins and elves and wargs (oh my!). Of course, with only five actors, most of them do double, triple . . . seemingly infinite duty as a range of other characters—and that’s not to mention the multiple musical numbers. They pull off the job quite well!
The superstar of the performance is veteran Children’s Theatre actor Dean Holt, who portrays only Bilbo Baggins throughout. Holt is simply fantastic in this role, on par with Ian Holm‘s depiction in the Lord of the Rings films. He has this wonderful ability to be completely harmless in one scene and intensely brave in the next, combining great humor and wit. Joining Holt on stage are Joy Dolo (often as Gandalf), Reed Sigmund (mostly Thorin Oakenshield), Becca Hart, and H. Adam Harris. The latter four must play nearly a dozen characters each as they swap costume pieces to become evil monsters, townsfolk, and fellow adventurers. The quick changes are subtle at first but become more obvious and humorous as the play goes on—which makes following along quite easy.
The set pieces are unique and massive, giving you an idea of the scale of the show before the actors even hit the stage. Even though they are somewhat minimalist, the use of lighting effects, modular pieces, and a little imagination make them incredibly expressive. One moment the characters are on a high mountaintop, and the next they’re inside an underground jail cell. The actors certainly get a workout, as they are almost constantly on the move, climbing, crawling, and running across the theater. All of this together is a magical combination of theater effects and visualization.
The story will start to suck you in, and at times you’ll likely forget this is a play aimed at children—though the poop jokes will pull you back. A lot of the more complicated themes and storylines are absent in favor of a focus on adventure, bravery, and loyalty. Most kids will probably do just fine with the action and pacing, as it is marketed toward “adventurous eight-year-olds and up,” just as long as they have a great imagination and can pay attention for an hour at a time (two hours total). The only downside of the show that is due to the condensed nature of the script, the second act feels a bit rushed as they fight Smaug and fight off the baddies. But nothing a child would notice; it’s a fun entrance to Middle-earth. And be warned: if you’re in the front row, you might have some actor interaction!
The Hobbit runs through April 14, 2019, and is a sure-to-please theater recommendation for kids and adults alike.