He’s played in everything from Hamlet to Molina in Kiss Of The Spider Woman, sharing stages and screen time alongside immortals like Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer and Chita Rivera, while collecting laurels as one of the finest actors in the country. Tony Award-winner Brent Carver is truly a national treasure, and he returns to the Toronto stage in the Mirvish’s musical extravaganza, The Lord Of The Rings.
Carver dons wizard’s robes as Gandalf, the otherworldly sorcerer in JRR Tolkein’s literary masterpiece about a band of unlikely friends and their adventures in exotic travel and cursed jewellery.
“It’s about journeying through a world of wonder,” says the soft-spoken Carver. “Sam, Frodo and Gollum are making their way through this crazy world, not knowing quite why they do it. I find it very moving.”
The adaptation is quite different from the recent film trilogy by Peter Jackson, though proportionately as ambitious, with a budget reportedly in excess of $27 million. Writers Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus (also the director) have followed in Jackson’s footsteps to a degree, using Celtic-inspired music to create an elvish atmosphere and incorporating many of Tolkein’s original song lyrics into the musical production.
It’s an impressive undertaking, combining Tolkein’s three original stories, The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King, into one sweeping three-and-a-half-hour spectacle, with lush sets (including an erupting volcano and fire-spewing demon) and sweeping battle scenes. The cast of 52 actors, singers, musicians and acrobats employ hydraulic lifts, grandiose stunt work and 16 built-in elevators to fully immerse the viewer in a mythic Middle Earth.
Carver is impressed with the writers’ success in relating a tale of such scope and breadth within the confines of a single production.
“Telling a big story like this in three hours is all about getting it distilled without taking anything away. Matthew and our designer Rob Howell have really done a lot of work beforehand about how they see it unfolding.”
Hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are played by James Loye, Peter Howe, Dylan Roberts and Owen Sharpe. Gruff dwarf Gimli is Ross Williams, elfin heartthrob Legolas is Gabriel Burrafato and majestic ranger-cum-king Aragorn is Evan Buliung. The homicidal imp Gollum is played by The Producers alumnus Michael Therriault.
Those expecting razzmatazz song and dance numbers may be disappointed, initially. Director Warchus has said that this production is an innovative hybrid of visual spectacle, physical theatre and atmospheric music, eschewing Fosse-like chorus lines of high-kicking elves.
“There’s a battle scene, with voices singing in the background, calling and chanting,” Carver explains. “The hobbits and elves have a particular sound as well, and there is a theme for Aragorn and Arwen that is so beautiful.”
Action junkies will have lots to look at with Warchus and Howell pulling out all the stops in creating epic onstage battles and the mythical characters that inhabit Tolkein’s opus.
“I love the Ents,” says Carver, of the massive talking and walking trees. “And I love Hobbiton, and the rangers of the north… it’s endless once you start naming them all.”
When asked how much attention he’s paid to the recent film adaptation and Ian McKellen’s role as Gandalf, Carver says that he watched the trilogy once, but has had to find his own way in bringing the wizard to life.
“It’s very interesting playing the part,” he says. “Finding it in my body, without it being in any way grandiose. There’s a real narration around him. He’s the pivot of the story, the centre of the storytelling.”
Always up for the challenge, Carver’s philosophy on any new project seems to be one of carefully considered confidence.
“The movies and the book are so much in the consciousness of people that it is intimidating in a way. But I’ve always felt that, with anything. I just have to keep doing it.
“After all, it is a big staff to fill.”