Hilo theatergoers can journey to Middle-Earth and back again Saturday night only when Waimea Community Theater presents “The Hobbit.”
The production, a 1968 stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic 1937 fantasy novel, will visit the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Performing Arts Center for two shows Saturday at the end of its three-week tour of the Big Island.
Director Rich Givens said despite being a community production put on by unpaid volunteers, the play does not shy away from the epic scope of the book.
The production features, among other things, giant spiders, oversized trolls, numerous battle scenes, and the pièce de résistance, an enormous fire-breathing dragon — although for safety reasons, the dragon truthfully only breathes smoke, Givens said.
“It took a lot of hard work and volunteer hours to put it all together,” Givens said. “When you look at the final production, it’s crazy to see all the things we could do.”
He said many of the volunteers working on the production were motivated by a love of the source material. Because of that, the theater group was able to draw cast and crew members from much farther afield than normal, with some actors participating despite living in Hawaiian Paradise Park or Naalehu.
Givens said there are roughly 50 people involved in “The Hobbit,” including cast and crew, making the play the largest the group has done since its 2016 production of “The Little Mermaid.”
For the past two months, rehearsals were conducted five days a week, leading to a grueling schedule for the more distant actors.
“We tried to be as accommodating as possible, but everyone knew what they signed up for,” Givens said. “They were excited to be a part of it.”
Despite the length of the source material — a roughly 300-page book recently adapted into three full-length feature films — Givens said the play is “fairly tight,” clocking in at just more than two hours long, not including an intermission.
“The book is insanely eventful,” Givens said. “Just about every scene is something else iconic.”
All those iconic scenes — from protagonist Bilbo Baggins’ first meeting with the wizard Gandalf and his dwarf companions, to Baggins’ game of riddles with the creature Gollum, to the final confrontation with the dragon Smaug — will be preserved within the play, Givens said, although some alterations for the stage, such as cutting down the company of dwarves from 13 to five, were made in the original 1968 script.
Another change the 1968 script made to the source material was the addition of a storyteller character who narrates the events onstage. Givens said the storyteller is essential to the play’s pacing, allowing the production to leap from set piece to set piece as quickly as possible.
The cast is a mixture of first-timers to the stage and community theater veterans. Many of the central characters are played by actors in their first-ever roles — Givens said that because of conflicting schedules, one actor who played Gandalf left the production, with the role filled by the father of the actor playing Baggins.
Several child actors pepper the cast as well, with some playing members of the goblin and elf ensembles and others playing central roles. The treacherous Gollum is played by a 13-year-old girl in her first-ever role, while a giant spider that kidnaps the heroes is played by an 8-year-old girl and was described by Givens as “adorable.”
Givens said the play’s debut in Waimea at the end of July was “received wonderfully,” with nice turnouts at each of the three showings. Because of the distances involved, “The Hobbit” will only appear in Hilo for one day, although there are two showings to compensate for it.
Saturday will be the play’s final day of performance, after which the Waimea Community Theater will begin preparations for an October production of “Dracula,” with auditions slated for next week.
Theatergoers can purchase tickets for “The Hobbit” at the door at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center or online at waimeacommunitytheater.org. Givens advised that tickets cannot be purchased through the university.
Showtimes are at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 11). Tickets are $10 for children, $20 for seniors and $25 for adults.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.