On a Stage in Downtown Norfolk Lives a Hobbit...
...and He's Going On An Adventure through November 6!
(left to right): Alana Dodds Sharp, Ryan Clemens, Thomas Hall, Jeffrey A. Haddock, and Anna Sosa
Words by BA Ciccolella. Images by Sam Flint.
Full Disclosure: I’ve been wanting to see this show since I found out that my college did it years before I attended. Their dragon puppet lived under the stage in costume storage, and I wanted to play with it SO BAD. So in a way, this review was something like 20 years in the making, and in another way, the cast had 20 years of fan-girl build-up in my mind to overcome.
That being said: Go see The Hobbit. Seriously, just, stop what you are doing, pause reading this, buy a ticket, and come back. It’s running through November 6th, you still have time. This one-act play (no intermission) by the Virginia Stage Company, presented in collaboration with the Governor’s School for the Arts, is just the thing to take your mind off of all the crap happening in the world today, and let you relax and enjoy a group of story-tellers, an epic world, and the tale of one relatively small person who just wants to be back home in his own bed.
Speaking of Mr. Bilbo Baggings, Jeffrey Haddock does a brilliant job bringing him to life at the Wells Theatre in a manner that both respects the complexity of Bilbo’s character while still being appropriate to the Hobbit as a children’s story. Alana Dodds Sharp plays an impressive Gandalf, and seamlessly transitions into other characters, even when the transition is played for a laugh.
(left to right) Jeffrey A. Haddock and Alana Dodds Sharp
Ryan Clemens is entertaining as always with his variety of characters, and brings a steadying but humorous voice of reason to Thomas Hall’s more emotional character, Thorin. Mr. Hall’s Thorin really made me appreciate more of the nuances of that particular character- this was probably the first time in being told/ reading the story that I truly appreciated the trauma that Thorin and his crew went through when Smaug attacked the Lonely Mountain, and how that affected him for the rest of his life.
A special shout out also must go to Anna Sosa, who, amongst her other characters, makes the character of Gollum both easily familiar to the audience, and also genuinely her own in this performance.
The ensemble does brilliant work of making a full world of Tolkien’s characters, and if you’ve read Tolkien (or listened to myself or Stephen Colbert talk for more than 5 minutes), you are well aware of just how big a world that can be. Every single one of the Governor’s School students on that stage more than holds their own with the adult union actors.
Jeni Schaefer’s costume design brilliantly transitions actors between different characters and monsters so seamlessly, it’s actually easy as an audience member to forget that the cast is relatively small compared to the list of characters. Between her work, and Tumôhq Abney’s props, though there are not even 15 people in the cast, the audience has no problem believing that 13 dwarves and a wizard have invaded Bilbo’s home at the beginning of the show, and that they are running into individual trolls, spiders, elves, goblins, wolves, and even a dragon.
Technically, the show is very well done, with Josafath Reynoso’s abstract set consisting of a few staircases, drops, and platforms transforming into every location in Tolkein’s Middle Earth (or at least most of the ones Bilbo sees on his first ever adventure- for those “super-nerds”, there are some scenes in the book which are cut for time). A large glowing circle at the back wall helps to indicate when Bilbo is wearing his famous ring. The production is set up as a group (or potentially two groups coming together), who are telling a story with the thing that they have found in this space, so many found-item props, (pool noodles, trash bags, head-lamps, crates, etc.) turn into the various monsters and other challenges that Bilbo and the dwarves tackle along the way.
(left to right): Jayden Adams-Ruiz, Anna Sosa, Katherine Cottrell, Thomas Hall, and Gunar Pencis
Christine Watanabe’s lighting design works to seamlessly to bring the different environments of Middle Earth to the stage, while also expanding and shrinking the space as needed to provide just the right amount of danger when monsters appear, and the exact relief needed to relax everyone back into a sense of security when Bilbo and the dwarves escape unharmed.
The “unsung” hero of this performance, however, was Steven Allegretto’s sound design, with brilliant but subtle environmental backgrounds that brought us directly into each of the locations, as well as vocal modulation assistance for the actors to play with to really bring home certain monsters. Jamison Foreman’s original music helped place us squarely in a Middle Earth where even super-fans of Tolkien and perhaps more “famous” adaptations of his work will be comfortable.
It’s very obvious that everyone onstage at The Hobbit is having a great time telling this story. Director Billy Bustamante has done a great job of putting together a version of our favorite bed-time story that both entertains, allows us to laugh and cry with the characters, and teaches us the lessons meant to be learned from this epic hero’s journey. In the words of Thorin Oakenshield, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But, sad or merry, The Hobbit will only be playing at the Well’s Theater until Sunday, November 6. So go see it, before it must leave us. Farewell.” …Or something like that- I may not have written down the whole quote correctly. 😉
The Hobbit is running through November 6 at the Wells Theatre in Downtown Norfolk. Tickets can be purchased here.