BWW Reviews: East West Players' THE WHO'S TOMMY - WOW! Just WOW!!!

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The Who's Tommy/Book by Pete Townshend & Des McAnuff/ Music & Lyrics by Pete Townshend/directed by Snehal Desai/David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts/thru June 7, 2015

East West Players has done it again with their spectacular production of The Who's Tommy. With an incredible band, vibrant vocals from the entire cast and stunning visuals, this 'little' theatre easily matches and betters many larger house productions.

For those unfamiliar with The Who's 1969 original concept album "Tommy," a war hero returns home after four years only to find his wife in the arms of her new lover. After a fatal struggle with a gun, the lover's killed in front of four-year-old Tommy. Both Captain and Mrs. Walker plead with their son not to say anything of what he has witnessed. They convince Tommy to not have seen or heard anything of the shooting. Thus, Tommy grows up into his teens deaf, dumb and blind.

Director Snehal Desai aptly keeps the energy high and the plot advancing forward at a quick snap with non-stop musicality and integral set changes well-choreographed and as non-intrusive as possible. Every inch of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz' double-deckered set's used to maximum effect with every flat (and not-so-flat) space serving as screens for the vivid (patterns of colors and symbols) and informative (lyrics and the advancing dates) video projections of Sean T. Cawelti.

Marc Macalintal (on keyboards) leads the sizzling hot band (Janeen Apodaca on french horn, Michael Boerum on drums, Khris Kempis on bass guitar, Vince Reyes on lead guitar and Christopher Spilsbury on second guitar) through a solid, rocking interpretation of The Who's soundtrack. Great sound miking of all instruments and singers from sound designer Cricket S. Myers.

The individual gorgeous voice of Deedee Magno Hall as Mrs. Walker ("Smash the Mirror"), and then combined with the strong vocals of her real-life husband Cliffton Hall as Captain Walker ("I Believe My Own Eyes") astonish and amaze. Love to see their next joint venture!

Joseph Morales possesses the strong pipes and the magnetic swagger of a rockstar which the role of grown-up Tommy definitely requires. Pre-miracle, Morales easily exhibits Tommy's vulnerability and naivety. Araceli Prasarttongosoth and Michayla Brown, as the 4-year-old and 10-year-old Tommys respectively, charm and delight the audience as any child performer should. How realistic the two, that when either of them get abused, taken advantage of, or man-handled; you can really feel for their innocence lost. Very sad!

Constance Jewell Lopez as The Gypsy KILLS with her show-stopping "The Acid Queen." Huge WOW here!

Parvesh Cheena essays the unsympathetic role of pedophile Uncle Ernie but gets his moment to shine shilling Tommy tchotchkes in "Tommy's Holiday Camp."

Soaring voices heard above their fellow ensemble in their various supporting roles include: Christine de Chavez as Specialist, Cailan Rose as Sally, and Ryan Castellino as Cousin Kevin. Others providing very able assist in the harmony and movement departments comprise of Marius Beltran, Caitlyn Calfas, Cesar Cipriano, Maxwel Corpuz, Michael Dashefsky and Tina Nguyen.

The East West touches and tweaks (shadow puppets, dragon pinata, courtesan robes, kung fu-ish fighting) blend smoothly into The Who's original all-British rock opera.

East West also doesn't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of life - bullying (Cousin Kevin), sexual abuse (Uncle Ernie), and violence (power hungry bodyguards and angry, disenchanted former Tommy followers).

Janet Roston's choreography (some clever, some frantic, all eye-catching) could have used more honing as some of the ensemble seemed to be marking their steps as opposed to dancing them full out. (Probably just opening night jitters.)

But, WOW!

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From This Author Gil Kaan