At long last, after 60 years, 11 Oscars and countless readings acted out with stuffed animals (everyone else did that too, right?), our society has evolved to a point where the Lord of the Rings trilogy can be satirized with at least a 75 percent chance of everyone in a room "getting" the punch lines. It's a grand time to be on the front of this mock battle, and Boise's own Prairie Dog Productions is leading the charge on a grassroots level with the production of Boisean Andrew W. Ebert's musical comedy The Lord of the Ring Dance: The Battle for Middle-Mirth.
The plot and cast of Lord of the Ring Dance follow the tried and true Mad Magazine and National Lampoon model of "Turn a character's name into an insult and the rest of the play will write itself." Instead of Gandalf, for instance, Tate McCullough plays Grandoof. An orc (Carly Latimore) is a dorc. Aragorn (Frederick Scott) is Hairagon (oh wait, I just got that one). And, of course, in a masterful why-didn't-I-think-of-it vowel switch, the play's two elves (Juliet Noonan and Jeremy W. Olsen) are both Vulcan-eared Elvis impersonators—although truthfully Olsen's look is more The Munsters than Blue Hawaii.
What ties this motley fellowship together is a ratty looking pair of red shoes that have mystically adhered themselves to the feet of "hoppit" FroDorothy (Kami Carpentier). These are, of course, the One Shoes ... of Power (thunder rolls)! The evil sorceress Sorwoman (Aimee Nell Smith) wants them, but cannot conquer FroDorothy's Shoes-of-Power-dance. You know the dance—it involves bent elbows and both index fingers pointing in the air, and is usually done when one is listening to "Hey Ya!" behind locked doors. It's a powerful demon boogie for sure and the characters must band together in order to destroy the shoes before FroDorothy decides to subject us to it again. Along the way, the diminutive hoppit encounters a malevolent script revision, a daring flyby from a giant owl (the special effects will amaze the young and younger alike) and more foot hair jokes than NYPD Blue has bare heinies.
True to Prairie Dog's claim of being "Idaho's family theatre," there is no blue humor in LOTRD—with the singular exception of a Grandoof one-liner about Showtime After Dark that is just clever and vague enough to soar, Nazgul-like, over the heads of all children and 90 percent of parents. Or at least the parents attempted to make it look like they didn't understand. Instead, in a move more telling about the age of the play's author than the age of the audience, Ebert appeals to adults by pulling LOTRD's satirical musical numbers straight from the Reagan-era pop charts. The first song in the play, for instance, is a takeoff on the Proclaimers 1988 hit "500 miles." The next tune is a reinterpretation of Soft Cell's 1981 standard "Tainted Love" about a virtuous hoppit. And finally, what four-year-old could forget the timeless strains of Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance?" Not me, because I was four when it was released, but the little audience-hobbits sitting around me with three-foot licorice ropes hanging out of their maws had no such luck. Their loss, I suppose—as it was when FroDorothy mocks William Shatner's singing career, Grandoof digs the timeless targets of Boise Tower or Garden City adult bookstores, or green-toothed Crawlum (John Gibbons) bursts into the Oscar Meyer wiener song, a ditty as old as Midde-Mirth itself.
If there is a hobbit-sized crack in this caper it is that the script, songs included, is so packed with jokes that many of them inevitably end up getting lost in the mix. I dare anyone to understand every word of a dated pop song when an elvish Elvis, a dorky orc, a cackling witch and a shrill hoppit, all firmly in character, simultaneously sing a full verse of inside jokes about one another. The effect is not dissimilar to the cacophony of voices that hearken the beginning of The Muppet Show, but like that gem, silliness shows the uncanny ability to triumph over diction in LOTRD. Judging by the amount of popcorn spilled by the children sitting around me (yes, it was the kids), nobody was too brought down by missing one out of ten jokes, and any occasional humor concerning foot odor or "Stop Drop and Roll" (always a big hit with the single-digit set) more than made up for what the tots couldn't understand.
Yes, LOTRD is immensely silly and corny, but only in the way that local theater put on in a church parking lot should be. Any and all errors or missteps (Grandoof nearly choking on his own fake beard, for instance) are addressed and made into new jokes, the audience is brought in as a character in all proceedings, and every bad-guy boo is a token of affection. See it before you've forgotten how much LOTR needs to be taunted.
The Lord of the Ring Dance: The Battle for Middle-Mirth by Andrew W. Ebert
Fridays and Saturdays through April 24, doors at 6:45 p.m., show at 7:15 p.m.
Prairie Dog Productions, The Alano, 3820 Cassia
$10 adults, $8 students/seniors, $6 kids 12 and under, reservations at 336-7383.