BWW Review: Denver Center's Tommy is an Amazing Journey
The Who's Tommy was probably one of my first musical experiences.
The movie, at least. I have vivid memories of that metal suit full of needles. A television exploding with foam and beans. '70s cinema was weird, and my young mind was fascinated.
The Who's rock opera has come a long way since its 1969 release as a concept album. The film followed just a few years later, but it took until the early '90s for Tommy to become a fully realized stage musical, featuring Pete Townshend's music and lyrics with additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. The book is also by Townshend along with Des McAnuff. While its plot differs slightly from the movie, the concept of a traumatized boy who grows up to become a Pinball Wizard remains at its core.
Young Tommy is rendered mostly senseless after witnessing his parents commit a murder, leaving him without the ability to hear, see or feel until adulthood. The Denver Center's production, vibrantly directed by Sam Buntrock, tells the story with much more of an introspective look into Tommy's upbringing and family life.
As Tommy, Andy Mientus brings an enthusiastic curiosity to the role while outwardly examining his youth, making his appearances as a shell of a boy almost haunting. He's got the kind of vocals you'd find in an indie band, lending a modern edge to the score.
Tommy's parents, Captain (Charl Brown) and Mrs. Walker (Betsy Morgan) hold the show's emotional core. While their voices are also terrific, the journey taken by each respective role is rooted strongly in the family's dynamic.
The set (designed by Jason Sherwood) is crafted sometimes like a life-size dollhouse and seamlessly morphs into a colossal pinball machine. It also brilliantly incorporates projection work (by Alex Basco Koch) around a single doorway. There's also live camera work. The lighting design (by David Weiner) is stunning. Take special notice of Ken Travis's three-dimensional sound design. The overall design work in this show is a clear glimpse into the future of theatrics.
While the thrill of experiencing the music of The Who's Tommy performed live is great enough, this production outdoes every element. The details are mesmerizing. The performances are powerful. Feel it for yourself--the Denver Center's Tommy truly is a sensation.
The Who's Tommy plays the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 23. Tickets available at DenverCenter.org.
Photos by AdamsVisCom