One-Man Lord of the Rings: A thrill ride for Middle-earth enthusiasts
The chill-inducing theme song starts to play, stage lights come on and a man outfitted in a black Dickies jumpsuit appears. Before you have time to adjust your eyes, One Man Lord of the Rings creator Charlie Ross has already blown through reenacting the first five scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring on stage, leaving you simultaneously shocked, impressed and a little confused.
After some hard blinks and a quick visit to the LOTR section of my brain (which, it's worth saying, is probably larger than the average person's), I was fully immersed in the one-man show. I sat hypnotized by the hilarious rapid-fire retelling, excited to see what would come of my favorite scenes of the movies.
I had to opportunity to speak with Ross about the success of his show, and while some kind of evil genius on stage, he is really just a friendly, normal nerd-guy who says he "lucked into" creating one of the coolest performances I've ever seen.
Armed with a BFA in acting, Ross made a name for himself in 2002 with the widely popular One Man Star Wars Trilogy. After traveling the globe with George Lucas’ masterpiece, Ross decided to dip into another similarly crafted, equally-loved (Is that safe to say?) series. And in 2004, One Man Lord of the Rings was born. Ross “read the books so much as a kid” that it seemed like the natural next step.
Condensing 12 hours of film into 70 minutes is no easy feat, but planning the abridged version was less strategic than one might think. “I started with what I could remember off the top of my head — the natural telling of the story.”
Ross wanted to treat it as if he were abbreviating the story for someone who hadn't seen the films. But without the context, background information or explanations along the way, the show is definitely best suited for those who have experience with the trilogy.
During one of the quick intermissions, Ross polled the audience to determine how many had seen the movies. Outed by her friends, one woman (In the front row, no less!) admitted that she hadn’t seen any of the movies or read the books, consequently offending the entire room of nerds.
Throughout the evening, Ross poked fun and apologized profusely for her undeniable confusion. And I’m pretty sure there were other less brave non-fans scattered across the audience.
But even if you are completely confused, Ross’ agility alone will keep you entertained. The somersaulting, jumping and collapsing, combined with the non-stop sound effects and character voices, is seriously impressive. He doesn’t even seem out of breath. A couple of not-so-subtle water breaks during the show proved that Charlie Ross is still in fact a human.
Even I (an admitted LOTR junkie) found myself a little lost on occasion, but a familiar “You shall not pass!” or “That only counts as one!” brought me right back to pace. With every reference I understood I felt like I should pat myself on the back. If I laughed harder than my neighbor, the competitive side of me is convinced he just didn’t “get it.” And considering how obscure some of the references were, there’s a good chance I’m right.
So exactly how many characters does Charlie Ross transform into? “I counted once.” In 70 minutes, he portrays 46 characters. That’s not even including the army or Orcs or the legion of Rohanians. His transitions between characters were smooth and seemingly effortless, each human/elf/wizard/hobbit/dwarf with a different voice and mannerism.
Ross says that he “feel[s] better with Lord of the Rings than with Star Wars because the characters are distinct and larger than life,” allowing him to poke fun at some of the absurdities in the roles. Galdalf’s consistently all-knowing voice, Samwise Gamgee’s intolerable whininess, Legolas’ perfectly braided locks. Ross revealed to me that his favorite characters to play were Lord Denathor and Smeagol, who I found particularly fun to watch.
After eight years with the Lord of the Rings, the obvious question is — what’s next? Ross agrees that Harry Potter would be something people would enjoy, but that’s s-e-v-e-n movies. And Ross says “with different directors throughout the series, it might be all over the place. I don’t know what justice I could do.”
A little disappointing, but don’t fret. If the Batman series continues to be as epic as the Dark Knight was, it’s also a possibility.
Ross will be jetting out of town after the weekend, but that won’t be the last we see of him. He owns some land in Austin, and after 12 years on the road, he might finally settle down to, in his words, “help Keep Austin Weird.”
Ross will be performing One Man Lord of the Rings through Sunday, June 24th, at The Long Center.