"The Who's "Tommy"opened on Broadway in 1993 and received five Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards. Originating as a Rock Opera written by Pete Townshend and performed and recorded by The Who in 1969, it became a best-selling album and an all time rock classic. It has been performed in concert, as a ballet and transformed into a not-very-successful movie. Reinvented here with additional new songs by Pete Townshend and a book by Townshend and Des McAnuff, "Tommy" is a triumphant marriage of Musical Theater and Rock n' Roll.
If you are old enough to know any of this music then you'll remember the hits, "Pinball Wizard", "Listening to You" and "Sensation". And if you're not, rest assured that the score is comprised of one catchy melody after another and impossible not to like.
The story of "Tommy" is the parable-like tale of Tommy Walker, born while his father, a paratrooper, is captured by the Nazis during World War II. Receiving word that her husband is dead, Tommy's young mother consoles herself with a new boyfriend. But at war's end her husband unexpectedly returns home. There is a fight and the boyfriend is killed. Four-year old Tommy, witnessing the murder, is completely traumatized, becoming deaf, dumb and blind. His parents try doctor after doctor, but to no avail. Cruelly treated by his cousin and abused by his uncle, Tommy's only solace is staring into a mirror at his reflection and playing pinball. Tommy becomes such a Master at the game that he's no longer ridiculed for his handicaps. But his parents never give up hope of finding a cure for their son. They turn from conventional medicine to superstition and the father lets the Gypsy Acid Queen take his son for a night in hopes of his recovery. None is forthcoming and in desperation Tommy's mother smashes the mirror into which he continually stares, jolting him back into the real world. Tommy is immediately, miraculously cured. He becomes a media phenomenon and cult hero. People start to follow Tommy. He holds mass rallies and starts a camp. But he soon realizes the pitfalls of the "Cult of Celebrity" and relinquishes his role as Guru-Pop Star. He goes home and forgives his family for their failings, inviting the audience to do the same.
Having seen the original Broadway version, I find it impossible not to make comparisons. The Broadway production had a dazzling panoply of scenes created by light projections and enough fly space to drop paratroopers in parachutes and carry Tommy up into the air on his pinball machine. That production also had a larger cast. This National Tour has no such luxuries. But the set it does have is sleek, simple and mobile, flying in and out with ease. The projections are modest but satisfactory. The costumes are fine, except that none ever depict the late 40's or early 50's when Tommy was supposedly growing up. The choreography is a bit congested and not very well executed, as it doesn't seem there are any "dancers who sing" in this show.
But let's talk about what the show does have. What it does have is an amazingly talented cast of singers who wail the hell out of this rock score. Of special note are: Monique L. Midgette as Gypsy, who sings with a Tina Turner type hyperkinetic energy; Michael Seelbach as Tommy, who seems to have a voice that can go on effortlessly forever; Daniel C. Levine as Cousin Kevin, whose grotesque mugging seems totally appropriate for the gargoyle like character he's created; Michael Berry as Captain Walker, bringing a beautiful voice and compassion to his role; and Cara Cooper as Sally Simpson, whose effervescent persona sparkles as much as her costume.
If you know "Tommy" as an album and enjoy the music, then seeing it come alive onstage should be a kick. And if you don't, then it's a great way to be introduced to some of the best rock music ever written.
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