Frodo, the tap-dancing hobbit? That was nearly the diminutive hero's destiny in the $23 million stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. ''Initially, it was a typical musical,'' says director Matthew Warchus. ''But that felt contemporary, and Tolkien is classic. Our hobbits do sing and dance but not in a Broadway way. They do it in a Middle-earth way.'' To keep Sam Gamgee off the kick line, Warchus embarked on a four-year journey to Toronto with a fellowship of his own, including composers A.R. Rahman and Värttinä plus British playwright Shaun McKenna (who helped whittle down Tolkien's text). ''If keeping characters like Tom Bombadil and Faramir means adding 45 minutes,'' says Warchus, ''then you have to sacrifice that.'' The musical also faced the spectre of Peter Jackson's big-screen blockbusters. ''I did keep them in mind at first,'' says Michael Therriault, who plays Gollum sans CGI wizardry. ''I started to make funny voices, and that was a huge mistake.''
The creators, who count on luring theater lovers as well as (mostly) young male LOTR fans, are planning a London debut in early 2007, though Broadway will have to wait (Canada has exclusive North American rights for 18 months). And while Warchus is pleased the faithful are filling seats presales topped $12 million at one point he knows it's no guarantee they'll leave whistling a happy tune. ''There are a lot of people who feel very protective of Tolkien but we've managed to dodge the death threats so far.''