The Who New
The Western Stage's Tommy will blow your mind.
Thursday, October 3, 2002
If there is a just God in heaven, there will be full-house audiences during the remaining run of The Western Stage''s production of The Who''s Tommy. The tight ensemble work of the cast is complemented by Jon Patrick Selover''s inventive staging, energetic choreography by Anne Marie Hunter, rock-concert quality lighting by Derek Duarte and a handsome set based on the design of the 1993 Broadway revival. From top to bottom, this production deserved the standing ovation it received on opening night.
Anyone who''s begun to understand the realities of mid-life crisis and menopause is already familiar with the basic story. The young Tommy watches in a mirror as his father (missing in action and reported dead during World War II) unexpectedly returns home and kills his mother''s lover. Tommy retreats into a sort of catatonia and stays there. As he grows up, Tommy develops only one skill: The deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball. Ultimately, Tommy''s spell is broken, he attains celebrity status, he eschews celebrity status and somehow comes to the conclusion that, when a person overcomes other people''s expectations and demands, there''s no place like home.
I confess that, although I sang along to "Pinball Wizard" during the mid-''70s, I''ve always been a little muddled by the show''s logic and message. This condition wasn''t helped by seeing Ken Russell''s lascivious, cynical film adaptation (is there any other kind of Ken Russell film?) starring Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Keith Moon and Tina Turner.
If the logic still escapes me, the Western Stage production at least puts the show''s overwhelmingly optimistic message into its rightful, rebellious, flower-power perspective. The 20-some members in the cast give a rollicking, committed performance.
While there are memorable individual performances throughout the show, it''s the technical, ensemble aspects of the production that shine the brightest. From the runway lighting that''s inset in the stage floor, making it look like a giant pinball machine, to the crispness of the set changes, to the multi-media display that plays continuously behind the actors, the show is about as flawless as a regional production can be. Director Selover and his crew deserve mountains of praise.
As the narrator and mature Tommy, Ronald M. Livingston gives a worthy, physical performance. Perhaps the strongest emotional performances of the evening are turned in by Murphy Hart and Greg Parker as Tommy''s parents, whose patience is tested past their limits. Choreographer Anne Marie Hunter doubles as Gypsy (originally known as the Acid Queen) and gives us a sexy but failed seduction of Tommy that leaves us as crestfallen as she is at the scene''s end. Grant McKee''s Uncle Ernie, while maybe not as menacing as hoped for, has a grand vaudevillian moment in hawking "Tommy''s Holiday Camp."
Of course, this opera would be nothing without the band. And this is a good group. Conductor Don Dally doubles on guitar with Richard DeVinck, the venerable Tom Ayres is Entwhistle-steady on bass, keyboards are handled by Mark Milligan, Jeff Amarosa and Michelle Galindo, Jeffery Fowler does French horn and Ken Dalluge plays drums. Even without a production to watch, one could listen to this band play.
The only real criticism is that oftentimes the vocals seem to lean too heavily toward the opera side of rock opera--rarely did the singers achieve the raw energy that one associates with rock. And perhaps it was just where I was sitting but sometimes the vocals seemed overtaken by the band.
Still, the production is filled with so much energy, and it is so well mounted, that it''s a definite must-see.
Tommy continues through Oct. 19 at The Western Stage.