It’s pretty hard to imagine any pop culture phenomenon, whether drama, musical or comedy, that can’t be parodied. So it makes sense to glom on to J.R.R. Tolkien’s various “Lord of the Rings” novels and their cinematic offspring for a stage musical.
Nearly 15 years ago, writers Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary and composer Allen Simpson crafted “Fellowship! The Musical,” a parody of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first volume of Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy and the subject of Peter Jackson’s wildly popular 2001 epic fantasy adventure film.
Their makeshift troupe rented the El Portal Forum Theater in North Hollywood originally “as a one-off for a two-week run,” explained the founder and artistic director of Fullerton’s Maverick Theater, Brian Newell, who is currently staging the show.
First they invited friends and family, but it became so popular that they kept extending it. It wound up running for six months, picking up awards and earning critical acclaim. L.A. Weekly gave it Musical of the Year and Best Comedy Ensemble in 2006.
Yet there hasn’t been a production of “Fellowship!” since 2014, and Maverick’s is the Orange County premiere.
“The show is definitely right up my alley,” Newell said.
Previous Maverick productions include the original Newell parodies “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space”; parody musicals like “Giant Green Lizard” (a Newell original) and “Evil Dead the Musical”; and the spoofy classics “Spamalot” and “The Rocky Horror Show.”
The “Fellowship!” creators visited the Fullerton venue to gauge Maverick’s suitability and gave Newell their blessing to produce their show.
“They chose a small local theater in Orange County to be the very first theater to produce the show without their providing any input — a big deal for these guys,” he said. “They were letting their baby go.”
Newell said to expect all the characters from the films and novels “with one big difference — they’re funny.”
So fans get to revel at the sight of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, Legolas, Samwise Gamgee, Aragorn, Arwen and others engaging in deliriously silly activities — all the more pronounced considering the dark, melancholy, Middle Earth-shaking tone of the subject matter.
Bilbo is now an aged Jewish comedian, the fearsome Balrog is a sleep-deprived diva, the battle on the Middle-Earth hill Weathertop is now a “West Side Story”-style gang fight, and the Elven realm of Rivendell is a stronghold for Scientology.
A dozen original songs include an over-the-top opening number with barefooted dancing Hobbits, an ’80s-style power ballad between the human Aragon and elf Arwen, and a semi-sleazy, sequin-studded New York cabaret number performed by Balrog, a creature of shadow and flame normally deployed to evoke terror.
The parodistic lyrics were penned by Holden-Bashar, McCrary and Simpson, with Brian D. Bradley, Lisa Frederickson, Edi Patterson, Steve Purnick, Cory Rouse, Ryan Smith, Peter Allen Vogt and Matthew Stephen Young chipping in additional lyrics and dialogue.
Stephen Hulsey music-directs Simpson’s score, which is performed by a three-man live band. Kelsie Blackwell choreographs. Celestina Hudson is costume designer. SenovvA, the company that holds the performance rights to the play, provided Maverick the show’s puppets. And Newell is the producer, director and set, lighting and sound designer.
“Fans who have seen the show at other venues have seen and loved it too,” said Newell, “and some are coming back to see it again.”
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Fellowship! The Musical’
Where: Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton
When: Through June 30. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m.
Cost: $30 ($15 for students with current ID)
Information: 714-526-7070, mavericktheater.com
Eric Marchese is a contributor to TimesOC.