You might say that Fellowship! The Musical Parody of The Fellowship of the Ring has gone there and back again.
After originating at NoHo's El Portal Theatre in 2004 and winning L.A. Weekly Theater Awards for Best Comedy Ensemble and Best Musical of 2005, Fellowship! played to great acclaim in San Diego and at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. The musical has now returned to L.A.'s Steve Allen Theater, performing each Friday night through June 29, and its local fan base couldn't be happier.
Just ask Suzanne the "Button Lady" -- assistant teacher by day, Fellowship! superfan by night. Suzanne saw Fellowship! for the first time at the Met Theater in 2005. She has since created dozens of unique button designs with logos and quotes from the show.
"I don't know theater that well, but I love Lord of the Rings," Suzanne says. She has seen Fellowship! performed in traditional theater venues, at informal table reads, and at Comic-Con, where she always dons her fabulous clinking cape of LOTR buttons.
Suzanne saw the musical parody for her 20th time last weekend, and she hopes the count will mount to at least 30 by the end of the musical's run at the Steve Allen Theater.
Fellowship! has ridden the wave of Peter Jackon's film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Co-book writers Joel McCrary and Kelly Holden-Bashar gathered composer Allen Simpson and a company of improv actor friends to develop the musical spoof in 2004, the year after the release of the last movie in the trilogy. They thought, "Let's do a show so those Ringers have something to do in December!" according to McCrary.
What was "supposed to be a three week lark," he says, extended into a six month run. This fan musical has won its own cult fan base in its many incarnations since 2004.
Lord of the Rings fans as far away as Germany have "randomly found the CD online," says McCrary, and Fellowship!'s Facebook fan page is filled with requests to mount the show around the world. The company hopes the latest production will be a launching pad for tours to regional theaters and abroad. The timing is ideal, with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit set to be released in two parts in December 2012 and 2013.
But home's never too far away, and Fellowship!'s most dedicated following is right here in Los Angeles. What most impresses producer Kevin Harvey is that audience members don't just come back to see the show a second (or 20th) time; they always bring friends. (Friday night was my third time seeing Fellowship!, and I'll be back later in the run with more sci-fi/fantasy and musical theater fans in tow.)
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Fellowship! even started hosting sing-along nights during their run at the Falcon Theatre in 2008. "We were a little nervous about it, but it was such a fun experience," says McCrary. "Fans were in the aisles doing the choreography along with everyone."
For McCrary, the musical provides "that communal experience that I think, as humans, we desire." With a delightful mix of catchy musical numbers and unpredictable improv, as well as fans old and new, Fellowship! is in for another exciting and unexpected adventure.
Fellowship! plays on Fridays at 8pm and 11pm through June 29: Trepany House at The Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 666-4268, fellowshipthemusical.com.