BWW Review: THE WHO'S TOMMY Inspiring Story of Hope and Healing
THE WHO'S TOMMY is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Pete Townshend and book by Townshend and Des McAnuff, based on The Who's 1969 rock opera Tommy. There are several plot differences between the album, the film, and the stage production, though the general storyline is largely the same. The biggest difference in the story is the new finale, which was rewritten in 1993. Originally, Tommy instructs his followers to become deaf, dumb, and blind themselves in order to achieve enlightenment. In the 1993 rewrite, Tommy instructs them to not emulate him, but to live their own lives. In both versions, the crowd rejects both him and his message. Inspiration for the stage show came from the 1969 concept album, Tommy by The Who. It was the first album ever billed as a rock opera. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and, before becoming a stage musical, it was also the basis for an all star recording that paved the way for the 1975 film of the same name. It first premiered on Broadway in 1993. Acclaimed director, Des McAnuff, and Pete Townshend sculpted the concept album into a stage show that won five Tony Awards including Best Original Score.
After witnessing the murder of his mother's lover by his father, Tommy is traumatized into catatonia and, as the boy grows, he suffers abuse at the hands of sadistic relatives and neighbors. As an adolescent, he's discovered to have an uncanny knack for playing pinball and, when his mother finally breaks through to him, he becomes an international pinball superstar. The story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb, and blind boy is an inspiring story of hope, healing, and the human spirit.
Director Jeff Hinkle has done a great job adapting this piece to the confines of the venue. It moves with fluidity and never becomes too loud. He has wisely chosen to keep the set to a minimum, consisting primarily of the mirror and the pinball machine. The choreography, by Rose Mitchell works best in the more athletic numbers, but at times is too classically dance oriented which is at odds with the source material. The costumes, by Scout Gutzmerson, work well and evokes the period, but are in desperate need of ironing in more cases than not. Tyler Groft's music direction and David Blackburn's vocal direction get great sound out of the company. Unfortunately, on the night I attended, there were microphone problems with a couple cast members causing me to miss around half of what they sang even though I was on the front row.
The performances drive this mostly sung through piece, starting with Jacob Burnelle and Aidan Lindsey as the older and younger Tommy. They both deliver winning performances and have a great chemistry with each other. Phil Rodriguez and Wendy Zavaleta, as Mr. And Mrs. Walker are both terrific, and both possess powerful singing voices. Speaking of powerful singing voices, Michelle Malia and Hilary Werthmann both stand out from the crowd. Buddy Novak does a fine job with the role of Cousin Kevin, adding layers of depth the character as he changes throughout the story. It is, however, Chris Cannata as Uncle Ernie that walks away with the show. He possesses a crystal clear voice that soars above the instrumentation and is so firmly in the moment as the unsavory character that when he is on stage you can't help but watch him.
The five piece band, consisting of Ben Dubois, Alex Freeman, Lerone Williams, Brian Trittin and Tyler Groft do a nice job with the music, but the sound just seems a bit thin for a rock musical. It is hard to achieve a rock opera sound with just five people. Groft's keyboard work is terrific and a standout of the musical experience.
In short, THE WHO'S TOMMY is an engaging musical experience with a positive message performed with great heart. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend It to those who love a good rock musical.
THE WHO'S TOMMY - Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend, Book by Des McAnuff and Pete Townshend, Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Running Time: Approximately 2 Hours, including intermission
THE WHO'S TOMMY, produced by City Theatre Company (3823 Airport Boulevard, Austin, TX, 78722)
Thursdays-Sundays, September 7 - 30. Thursdays - Saturdays 8:00 pm. Sundays 3:00 pm.
Tickets $25. Two for $45. Center Reserved $30 - $35.
Senior and Student Seats $20. Thursday all general seats $20. Group discounts available.
Reservations 512-524-2870 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.