Review: “The Hobbit” — Black Hawk Children’s Theatre

Upon entering the Hope Martin Theatre for the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre’s production of The Hobbit, you instantly see Geoff Ehrendreich’s magnificently designed set, which features a hobbit hole, complete with round door, some mountains, some holes with bars for holding prisoners, and a backdrop that happens to be an detailed map of Middle Earth, complete with Elven runes. It manages to be stunning, realistic and efficient for this production; it works well.

That statement can’t be said about the rest of Anita Ross’s production, which has the main problem of having actors that really come off a bit too much as a bunch of kids running around on stage in fake beards. Never for once do we really believe that this is J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic tale coming alive before our eyes, which isn’t aided by the fact that Edward Mast’s script comes off as being a Middle Earth-themed episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood due to Bilbo’s (Zack Thune) asides and narration. It makes a lot of the play seem all warm and fuzzy and sweet. Except for Gollum (Whitney Molln).

What the play primarily suffers from is a lack of emotion in the actors’ performances, which leaves many of the performances unmemorable. But there are also some actors that simply speak too quickly, like Thune. Smaug is reduced to a unintimidating cartoon thanks to Linnea Nicol’s voiceover, which is unfortunate since Smaug is supposed to be a fearsome dragon. Wesley Word’s fight choreography is inconsistent due to some scenes seeming too fake. However, Molln’s performance as Gollum is delightfully creepy and pathetic, making it a performance that you wish would go on for longer. The scene also features a terrific lighting effect that makes it appear as though there is a stream reflecting on the cavern walls. (The lights are designed by Brad Brist.)

For young children with no previous exposure to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, this might be the right introduction for them; there’s nothing too scary about this production. But for those that are fans of Tolkein’s book, this will be a disappointment.

“The Hobbit” continues through March 7 with performances at 2 p.m. at the Hope Martin Theatre in the Waterloo Center for the Arts (225 Commercial St., Waterloo). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (319) 291-4494.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did not pay for my ticket for this play. I received a press ticket.

18 thoughts on “Review: “The Hobbit” — Black Hawk Children’s Theatre

  1. Karen Schmitt

    Monica- Felt that was a bit harsh. Have you forgotten your “unmemorable performances” at the playhouse? Obviously yes! You need to remember that the cast & crew are volunteers; mostly kids learning to act and pursing their passion. They need encouragement not criticism from bystanders. Every person on the stage as well as back stage worked long hours to provide a show for your entertainment, not for money but their love of theatre. The 2 boys I took Friday night LOVED the show and wanted to see it again immediately after it was over.

    Costumes (designed by Katrina)- AWESOME
    Set- (designed by Geoff)- AMAZING
    Lighting-(designed by Brad )-STUNNING
    Choreography-(designed by Alan)-TERRIFIC

    Kids on stage following their dream- PRICELESS

    I say kudos to Anita Ross for directing a terrific show for the Cedar Valley.

  2. Karen,

    I was asked to review the production and did my job by giving an honest, fair review of what I saw on the stage. Everyone has a different opinion of what they see.

  3. An Angry Parent

    Your review is too harsh. My son put a lot of hard work into the play. What gives you the right to be so mean? Just because you’re some fancy person from Chicago doesn’t mean that you can go and hurt kids feelings. They love the theater in their community and clearly you don’t because you praised a play in Cedar Rapids. There audiences probably don’t care as much about theater as we do in the Cedar Valley.

    Anyone that missed The Hobbit because of what this blogger wrote missed a great play. We should all be thankful that Anita Ross directed it.

  4. Put Monica in Perspective


    I cannot believe you would be so nasty toward kids. Is your memory so short that you can’t recall some of your own work at the Waterloo Community Playhouse?

    Part of being a good writer is remembering your audience. Considering your audience for a review of children’s play is comprised mainly of those children and their parents, I don’t think you did a good job at all of tempering your opinions. That, Ms. Reida, is REAL art.

    Robin Loes

  5. Robin, being honest is not nasty. The last thing I performed in at WCP was seven years ago. The last play I did at BHCT was five years ago. The most recent play I performed in done at Cedar Falls High School.

    If you read the final sentence, you would have notice that I acknowledge the audience for the play.

    Angry Parent, have you ever been to a play at Theatre Cedar Rapids?

  6. Oh, Monica. It’s cute that you think anyone cares about your little blog that you post on your own time and no one pays you for. Don’t be deluded into thinking you’re any different from the millions of other youtubers or bloggers who make the mistake of thinking anyone but their mom care about their lives or their imbecilic opinions. You’re just another home-schooled kid who never learned how to interact with people and compensates by pretending they matter on the internet.

    As for your review, let’s see you condense The Hobbit-a lengthy novel-into an hour long play that is appropriate for and easily followed by children. Also, let’s see you work with a large cast of elementary to middle school aged kids- many of whom have not preformed onstage before- and teach them the basics of acting while incorporating light, sound, and costume design into your show. You should also do this while the kids have school, homework, and other activities to attend and spend time on. As an afterthought, you should be a new face in this theater; and be under mountains of stress to direct a memorable first season while attempting to prove yourself as a director, and delicately balancing that with displaying yourself as a trusty and worthwhile person. You do that. Then we’ll talk.

  7. I went to Cedar Falls High School for three years and graduated from there. I went to Holmes Junior High prior to that. I went to public school, thank you.

    And, if you would like some links for news sources linking to my blog, I’d be more than happy to deal with them.

  8. By the way, sign your comment.

  9. I’ve never witnessed a more exemplary way to burn a bridge. Particularly, one that that has prominently provided you with the skill set that allowed you to attend the University where you are now studying. Kudos for all of the controversy and attention, however, I am certain that your kindness will be returned upon your return there. Congratulations on a bridge well burned.

  10. Whomever wrote this comment, please know that I’m an English major. Also, please sign your comment.

  11. I do not believe that this review was harsh, nasty, or cute. I think that this was an honest review, one which was requested.

    I’m sure that some of you may feel I have a bias in favor of the critic, but I don’t. This is the theatre that I grew up in and hold very close to my heart.

    If you have read other posts on this blog, you would know that nothing is sugar-coated. This is not discriminating against BHCT, and this is definitely not the most negative review she has written.

    Also, having been on the receiving end of very harsh critique in my life, I know that it has helped me to not only become a better actor, but also a better person.

  12. Ladies and gentlemen who responded,

    Are you aware of the job of a critic? Their job is, in fact, to think critically–to analyze what works in a play and what doesn’t, and respond to it honestly. She would be doing readers a disservice to respond dishonestly. Yes it is a play for children, but children have as much a right to quality art as adults do, and it’s insulting to them to say that because they are kids, substandard stuff isn’t a problem.

    If you have a problem with the review she wrote, you should really be blaming the people who chose to invite a critic to a show performed by and for children. Why would they do that if they didn’t want an honest reaction? And to those who said how hard everyone works: everyone who creates a work of art works incredibly hard. That doesn’t mean it’s always worth seeing. I mean, people worked hard on the Iraq War strategy, and it was still a piece of crap.

    And as for the person who wrote about her being a “fancy person from Chicago”: I dearly hope you’re one of the kids in the cast, because I’d be ashamed of writing something so childish if I were an adult.

  13. Put Monica in Perspective


    I was referring to YOUR audience not to the audience of the play or the book.

    I leave you all with one parting comment as I can’t figure out why I even am reading this blog:

    “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.”

    Robin Loes

  14. Brian McCarty

    In the future it would be best to not name the performers with whom you had a problem. You could simply describe the flaws in performance with out the direct finger pointing. All that does is discourage people from auditioning in the future, and nobody benefits from that. -Brian McCarty

  15. Am I missing something?

    I think that the thing that has everyone so upset is that this was a play performed BY elementary/middle school-aged children. But your review seems to be holding these CHILDREN to the same standards to which you would hold a professional or amateur production produced by adults.

    I think it’s disingenuous of you to downplay so heavily that the performances you are panning are the performances of CHILDREN. Only one sentence in your entire review in any way references this fact.

    As to Mr. Valancy’s suggestion that blame be placed on the people who invited a critic; I’m not sure that anyone invited the critic to review the show. I see your standard disclaimer that you received a press ticket for the show… but in your Twitter feed, when asked if they (the theatre) knew they were being reviewed, your response was “Probably not. They don’t like non-traditional media sources. I won’t review a show there again.” These 2 statements seem to be at odds with each other.

    Given that you seem to have a prior relationship with this theatre; it would seem likely that you were invited to come see the show for free, not with the hopes that you would review it but rather as a nice thing to do. In the end, the issue of whether or not you were invited to review the show is immaterial. The real issue is that of the appropriateness of subjecting a production like this to a professional review. Would you go to an elementary school and critique the kids’ school play? No. But simply because these kids happen to be performing outside of the auspices of a school, suddenly it’s reasonable to do so?

    That’s ludicrous.

  16. Totally agree with Brian McCarty!

  17. Robin, since you were referring to my audience for my review, I probably shouldn’t have reviewed it in the first place, judging from what you said. Most of my readers aren’t even in Iowa, although they do go from coast-to-coast and are even outside of the United States.

    Brian, if I don’t point out the actors that I felt gave flawed performances, it won’t be an honest, professional review.

    Am I Missing Something, I would first of all appreciate it if you signed your comment. Second of all, I was invited to review this production by Geoff Ehrendreich, the scenic designer at the Waterloo Community Playhouse/Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. Geoff did provide me with a free ticket in the hopes of receiving a review in response. I don’t know if the actors knew that I was reviewing the show, that’s what my remark on Twitter was in regards to, although I do appreciate you going and looking at that.

    As for the cast, a majority of the cast was composed of middle-school and high-school students. There were a few actors that were in elementary school, all of them were in fifth-grade. I realize that they’re still in elementary school, but they were older. I also doubt that an elementary school would invite me to review a production.

    In regards to everyone that has left a comment, I normally don’t review children’s theater unless I enjoy the production. For example, I reviewed BHCT’s Anne of Green Gables and The Velveteen Rabbit and Brucemore Children’s Theatre’s The Princess Who Wouldn’t Wear Pink. Since I was invited by Mr. Ehrendreich, who wanted a review, I did go and write a review of the play.

  18. I would like to clarify a couple of things: I personally invited Monica to review the show. I did not expect that she would hold children performers to such a high standard. My intention was selfless. I knew Monica had come back to Iowa and wanted to give her an opportunity to do what she likes to do–write about theater. I told no one that i invited her, and it was in no way supported by the organization for whom i work. I will never again make the mistakes I made here, which only caused anger and tension between people. I asked for a review, and I got one. I disagree with it and feel that it was mean-spirited. It’s still my fault for asking.

    Let’s all let it go folks.

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