Peter Howe and Jame Loye in The Lord of the Rings
(© Manuel Harlan)
Peter Howe and Jame Loye in The Lord of the Rings
(© Manuel Harlan)
London becomes Middle Earth this month when the musical adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings begins previews at the Drury Lane on May 5. The music is by Bombay Dreams composer A. R. Rahman, the director is Matthew Warchus, and the cost of putting on the long-awaited venture isn't far short of $30 million, a West End record. Having already played Toronto to mixed critical reception, the tuner will be watched closely for improvement, although home-grown fans may decide the enterprise works much better only slightly south of where Tolkien set his fantasy for adults and children.

Musical lovers get two additional treats this month. The Drowsy Chaperone, which twits musicals of the 1920s with humor and style, arrives from New York where it's played to enthusiastic crowds for over a year. Bob Martin, who wrote the book with Don McKellar, stars as Man in Chair, along with Elaine Paige (ending a seven-year West End absence), Summer Strallen, and Nickolas Grace. Casey Nicholaw, who directed and choreographed in Manhattan, repeats his assignment at the Novello (previews begin May 14).

At least one violin will be turned carefully when Fiddler on the Roof reaches the Savoy (previews May 19). The classic musical about Sholem Aleichem's Tevye marrying off his nubile daughters will have London favorite Henry Goodman delivering "If I Were a Rich Man" and other classic Bock-Harnick tunes.

The other local star bowing is Sir Anthony Sher, who'll be waxing flamboyant as legendary English stage great, Edmund Kean in Kean, Jean-Paul Sartre's adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel at the Apollo (previews begin May 24). The director is the revered Adrian Noble, very busy these days now that he's left The Royal Shakespeare Company.

This time of year is particularly copacetic for Shakespeare sniffers, as the Globe begins its annual six-month season. The first mighty attraction is Othello (May 4-August 19), with Eamonn Walker as the jealous Moor, Tim McInnerny as the plotting Iago, and Zoe Tapper as the uncomprehending Desdemona, under the direction of Wilson Milam, Also on the early Globe schedule is Howard Brenton's In Extremis (May 15-26), a period piece about those famously chaste lovers Eloise and Abelard.

Fans of new plays will want to check out the Almeida, where Theodore Ward's Big White Fog bows (May 5-June 30). Artistic director Michael Attenborough will guide a large cast, including New York import Novella Nelson. At the Royal Court, the new entry is Mike Bartlett's My Child, concerning a father struggling not to be estranged from his son in a violent world.

DC Moore's Alaska (May 25-June 23), another RSC presentation, is about a cinema-kiosk worker facing a jarring on-the-job change, while A Matter of Life and Death in the National's Olivier (May 3-June 21) is an adaptation of the 1946 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger flick about a soldier fighting for survival after fleeing his burning aircraft.

Harold Pinter lovers can rejoice. The dramatist's always involving Betrayal -- that's the one told mostly in reverse -- is being revived at the Donmar Warehouse (May 31-July 21) starring Dervla Kirwan, Tony Stephens, and Samuel West, under Roger Michel's direction. Another happy revival is the adaptation of Somerset Maugham's The Letter at Wyndham's (May 1-August 11), starring Anthony Andrews and Jenny Seagrove. And here's a final suggestion: Maxim Gorky's Philistines plays the National's Lyttelton (May 23-June 20). Andrew Upton is providing a new treatment that Howard Davies directs. Conleth Hill and Rory Kinnear -- both always worth seeing -- are featured in the sizable cast.