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REVIEW: Freewheeling Adaptation of The Hobbit at CTC (Children’s Theatre Company)

Becca Hart and Reed Sigmund in the Children’s Theatre Company’s new adaptation of The Hobbit. Photo by Dan Norman.

There’s a freewheeling musical adaptation of The Hobbit playing at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. This new take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s novel is very loosely based on the source material, takes a light touch, and essentially serves as a contemporary morality tale using the bones of Tolkien’s story.

If you’ve seen a musical version of The Hobbit onstage before and think this sounds a bit different, well, yes, it is. This new version was penned by Greg Banks and Thomas Johnson (Banks also directs) and is an ephemeral thing that passes in two swift hours. The songs are pleasant if not memorable; the heart and joy is in seeing how the five actors and two musicians tell the story, often with the help of numerous props and set pieces hiding in plain sight.

Our narrator is Bilbo Baggins (Dean Holt), with Joy Dolo, H. Adam Harris, Becca Hart, and Reed Sigmund alternately playing dwarfs, spiders, dragons, trolls, and the like. Joy Dolo’s portrayals of Gandalf and Gollum are especially memorable, as is Reed Sigmund as dwarf leader Thorin. A lot of high-energy scenes fill the ruined industrial set, including an excellent goblin chase scene. Small children will delight in seeing actors disappear and reappear as new characters, and there is a lot of situational humor.

Bilbo Baggins (Dean Holt) serves as the story’s narrator and protagonist. Photo by Dan Norman.

The Page-to-Stage Adaptation

If you’ve ever thought that a good book needs to be radically simplified and its tone drastically altered by Hollywood, well…that’s more or less what’s happened here. It’s not a bad show per se, but as someone who actually read and enjoyed The Hobbit, the liberties taken are conspicuous and often distracting. Banks’ script often tries to do too much, too often on the nose. It’s not that turning the dwarfs’ quest into soliloquies on the plight of refugees is necessarily bad, but that the script does so heavy-handedly and without bringing that thread to a satisfactory conclusion.

The cast of The Hobbit prepares for battle in front of a set designed by Joseph Stanley. Photo by Dan Norman.

These are adult thoughts, formed by a book lover. While Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films are many things, their most conspicuous defect is trying to turn a children’s story into an action epic that it’s not – Battle of Five Armies notwithstanding (yes, this does show up in the musical). The changes made to The Hobbit by Banks are less jarring than Jackson’s action extravaganza, but I’d rather grab the book and read it to my niece. Not all that glitters is gold, and not every thing needs to be writ large. Little kids probably won’t care – it’s a play that has Gandalf, after all.

The Hobbit plays through April 14 at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN.

Amy Donahue