Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brilliant TOMMY rocks the Festival

The Who, which was inducted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, is noted as one of the holy trinity of British Rock.  They, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, are credited with making rock a legitimate musical movement.

Founded in the 60s, the group had 27 top singles in the UK and US, 17 top ten albums and were gold, platinum and multi-platinum award winners. 

Besides the group’s fame as performers, Pete Townshend, the guitarist and songwriter for the group, is responsible for developing the book, music and lyrics for TOMMY, a 1969 double album rock opera.  He was joined in developing the book by Des McAnuff.

The album was transformed into a stage play which opened on Broadway in 1993 and ran a very creditable 899 performances.  A remarkable staging of TOMMY is now on stage at The Stratford Festival.

TOMMY tells the tale of a young boy who loses his sight, hearing and speech after witnessing a murder, being raped, and bullied. 

The story starts in 1940 when Tommy’s father and mother meet in London, fall in love, and get married.  Captain Walker goes off to war, and is shot down over Germany.  He is captured and imprisoned.  Thinking her husband is dead, Mrs. Walker, a new mother, moves on with her life.  In 1945 the Captain is freed, and returns home to find his wife with a new lover. A fight ensues between the two men.  Four-year old Tommy, trying to avoid seeing the battle, turns to a mirror to avoid witnessing his father shoot his mother’s boyfriend.  The mirror symbolically absorbs and stymies his emotional growth.

Traumatized Tommy is then molested by his Uncle Ernie and his problems are further developed when his cousin Kevin, a sadist, bullies and abuses the boy.   Kevin, as a lark, takes Tommy to a youth club where blind Tommy astounds everyone by displaying pinball wizardry, becomes known as The Pinball Wizard, and through the attention and self-awareness he miraculously gains back all his senses, but he is still fragmented, unable to emotionally cope.

His recovery makes him into a “semi-god,” with a cult of followers.  He eventually becomes disenchanted with his fame and returns to his family, ultimately smashing the mirror, and becoming whole again as his 4-year-old, 10-year-old and adult-self meld together.

The musical’s score is outstanding.  Highlight selections include “See Me, Feel Me,” “Sensation,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Go to the Mirror,” “I’m Free,” and “Listening to You.”

Stratford’s production, under the creative direction of Des McAnuff, is, as one of the song titles states, an “Amazing Journey.”  The cast, choreography, and musical accompaniment are astounding.  It’s impossible to watch this show passively.  Every aspect grabs and holds the attention.  Even those who may not like rock music, should find this to their liking as the sound doesn’t drown out the singing, but underscores it.

The production creatively illustrates how the newer technologies can be used to enhance the visual aspects of staging.  The videos and images took this show to a new and exciting dimension.

Robert Markus, as the older Tommy, has a strong singing voice, which he uses to create the right images by singing meanings, not just words.  He is totally believable in both the blind and seeing scenes.   He is ably supported by a strong cast which has high level dancing and singing skills. 

Outstanding are Paul Nolan as the smarmy Cousin Kevin, Jeremy Kushnier as Captain Walker, understudy Robin Hutton as Mrs. Walker, and Steve Ross as Uncle Ernie.  Conor Bergauer and Arden Couturier, as the younger Tommys, displayed strong stage presence and were convincing in their characterizations.

Capsule judgement:  Stratford’s production of The Who’s TOMMY is outstanding.  The music, staging and performances command the audience to watch and wraps them in a theatrical experience that they will long remember, creating an “Amazing Journey.”  Wow!

TOMMY runs through October 19, 2013 at the Stratford Festival.  Tickets are limited due to strong demand.  For information call or go to: 800-567-1600 or go on-line to