5 Reasons to See First Stage’s Innovative Retelling of ‘The Hobbit’

The lively story is on stage through March 5.

THE STORY OF Bilbo Baggins, who prefers the comfort of his own home but has an appetite for adventure is a reminder that while tea and literature are nice, sometimes the most exciting experiences happen when you get out of your cozy chair and go out into the world. Here are five reasons why I propose you should do just that by getting your tickets for First Stage’s zippy retelling of a beloved J. R. R. Tolkien book, running through March 5

1. It’s Immersive 

Walk into the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center’s Goodman Mainstage Hall, and you’ll know you’re not in for your everyday theater performance. The 100-plus seats are arranged in a circle with the stage in the center. That means depending on where you sit, you’ll experience the show in a new way. It also means the actors face the challenge of putting on a show that is engaging for all corners of the room – and they rise to the occasion. The cast often does call-outs to audience members, suggesting that we too are characters experiencing the adventure.   

Shammen McCune and Leo Madson in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023; Photo courtesy of First Stage, 2023; Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

2. The Cast

This show is a demanding, high-energy marathon. With only six cast members playing a wizard, a hobbit, trolls, 13 traveling dwarves and more colorful characters, director Jeff Frank had to get creative. Aside from Bilbo, all of the characters are juggling multiple rolls – slipping in and out of accents and costumes to show the difference. The second act especially is an all-out sprint, with a prison escape, a goblin war, a dragon and much more. You can see the actors giving it their all, especially Matt Daniels in his role as the powerful Thorin. It’s worth noting that I saw a performance from the “Journey Cast,” which features Angel Rivera as Bilbo Baggins. The “Adventure Cast” has Leo Madson in that role. 

Matt Daniels (front), Jake Badovski, Shammen McCune, Angel Rivera, and Elyse Edelman in THE HOBBIT; Photo courtesy of First Stage, 2023; Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

3. The Adventure

There’s action involving wolves, spiders, trolls, elves and more. Because of the immersive nature of this show, you really feel like you are on a journey with these great characters, experiencing the fantastic world that Tolkien created. The characters walk around in circles changing up the set design to make the journey feel long, and mirror all of the travel from the tale. And each new destination brings more characters to love or fear. 

Matt Daniels (front) and Elyse Edelman, Leo Madson, and Jake Badovski in THE HOBBIT; Photo courtesy of First Stage, 2023; Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

4. The Songs

I left the theater humming the tunes from this cheery production. Natalie Ford provides an acoustic performance from above the stage. On occasion, the actors join in on instruments, with Rivera playing musical spoons and Shammen McCune (as Gandalf) on the melodica. After the show, audience members get to ask the actors questions about the performance, and at my showing, half of the questions were from kids asking about these fun, lesser-known instruments. 

Angel Rivera, Matt Daniels, Jake Badovski, and Shammen McCune in THE HOBBIT; Photo courtesy of First Stage, 2023; Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

5. For the Fast, Kid-Friendly Pace

If you’re a fan of the The Hobbit, be it the book or movie, this is an opportunity to see it retold at a fast, engaging pace. With a 90-minute runtime, it’s also a chance to share your love for the tale with the littles in your life – unlike the movies, which will take at least eight hours depending on snack breaks and if you commit to the extended versions. 

Elyse Edelman, Matt Daniels, and Jake Badovski in THE HOBBIT; Photo courtesy of First Stage, 2023; Photo by Paul Ruffolo.



Alli Watters is the digital and culture editor at Milwaukee Magazine. That means that in addition to running this website, she covers art, entertainment, style, home and more for the magazine. It also means she doesn't sleep much.