Charles Ross doesn’t lack for his own company when he takes the stage for “One Man Lord of the Rings.”
The Canadian actor/writer, who will appear 8 p.m. Thursday, April 17, at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, performs nearly 50 characters from the epic J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel during the 70-minute show.
“One Man LOTR,” which he first developed a decade ago, is an outgrowth of the theatrically trained actor being a self-described “professional geek.”
“It’s the mutation of a fan — a person who loves on the outside loving a thing and suddenly I’m emulating it onstage,” says Ross of his “professional geek” status. “I’m part of it and not a part of it. I’m feeding the hand that feeds me. I pay a royalty. I’m part of the food chain, but not sure where I fit in.”
Although the Canadian performer admires the material, by necessity he doesn’t show much reverence for it, as he traces “Frodo’s epic journey from the Shire to the fire” in little more than an hour.
Without benefit of props or costumes, Ross condenses the major events of the book, as depicted in a series of three hit films directed by Peter Jackson — “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.”
“I’m doing an impression of the actors performing the characters that everybody loves,” Ross says. “It’s been edited in such a way that there are huge editorial jumps and yet it still works. “It’s a question for the audience what am I going to leave in and what am I going to take out.”
Sometimes Ross gets criticized by “total dorks” over his editorial decisions.
“Some people are more troubled than others,” he says, half-joking. “That’s totally to do with them. Anybody can tell I’m coming from a good place in my heart.”
Actually, he faced initial resistance from Tolkien family members and others who hold the rights to “Rings,” forcing him to take a four-year hiatus from performing the show, before finally winning them over. Since 2009, he has toured “One Man LOTR” constantly, paying a licensing fee.
“I had to weather a strange storm,” Ross says. “It took a while, but when it was logical people talking to logical people, they realized how small this is. They didn’t really care.”
Ultimately, the show is as much an homage as a send-up.
“I think when people react to something truthful, they’re not sure whether to cry or laugh,” he says. “People need a release, so they tend to laugh. But you couldn’t take this thing seriously if you tried.”
By far, the biggest challenge for Ross isn’t winning over diehard fans, but from the physicality of going from main character Frodo to benevolent wizard Gandalf to the evil Gollum, among some 40-odd characters, and back again.
“You have to sustain your shape, you have to make sure you get enough sleep,” he says. “If I injure myself, there’s no one else waiting in the wings to jump in. There’s a lot of pressure to keep nimble. The show itself is a big strain, because I have to maintain the energy. It goes by at a breakneck pace. Imagine nursing a hangover and trying to keep straight 46 different characters. It takes a lot of concentration. It’s no different from training for a marathon. You have to know when to push, when to hold back and when to plateau.”
One piece of advice for those considering “One Man LOTR.” It’s best enjoyed if you have watched at least one of the films in the series. (Being familiar with Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” won’t help you for this show, although Ross has secured the book’s rights and is working on his own version.)
“If you want to see a person work for the laughs, if you named your kid Frodo Baggins and you live in a place that’s a recreation of the Shire, you’re going to love this thing,” he says.
Approach works for ‘Star Wars,’ too
Charles Ross had the force with him when he took on the tall task of adapting the “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy into a one-man show.
The actor-writer previously created the similar “One Man Star Wars,” which was scheduled to be performed locally on April 20 at the Stockton Performing Arts Center in Pomona, but has been postponed to Feb. 13, 2015.
“They’re similar in some ways — they’re big franchises, they’re both instantly recognizable,” Ross says of his two productions. “But they are very, very different.”
Among the key differences are the number of characters — 35 for “Star Wars” vs. 46 for “Lord of the Rings” — and the breadth of the material.
“With ‘Lord of the Rings,’ there are so many more distinct characters, and the films are so much longer,” Ross says. “In ‘Star Wars,” I focus on the main characters.”
However, the shows typically have crossover appeal.
“Usually, nerdy people are nerdy people are nerdy people,” Ross says of his fan base. “I appreciate that, because it’s a repeat audience.”