The Who's Tommy
Front Row Centre Players - The Who's Tommy
Show playing up until January 23, 2016
Music and Lyrics by PETE TOWNSHEND
Book by PETE TOWNSHEND and DES MCANUFF
Additional Music and Lyrics by JOHN ENTWHISTLE and KEITH MOON
Originally Produced on Broadway by Pace Theatrical Group and Dodger Productions with Kardana Productions
Directed by Janos Zeller | Assistant Director: Kristine Astop
Musical Direction by Chelsea Wellman
Choreography by Danielle Desmarais
Synopsis: This deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!
The Who’s iconic Rock Opera follows Tommy, a young boy traumatized into catatonia, on his journey of hurt, hope, and eventual healing… with a little pit stop into Pinball Superstardom on the way. You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it. You won’t say nothing to no one ever in your life. As his mother searches for a way to cure him, Tommy is left vulnerable to his cruel relatives and neighbours. He retreats further and further into the safety of his own mind, until his pinball wizardry finally offers an outlet for what he’s always wanted: to be seen, heard, and helped. The score of The Who’s Tommy will thrill classic rock fans and musical enthusiasts alike, as will the timeless story of the struggle over adversity and the strength of the human spirit. Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know.
Years ago, when I was visiting home from college; I was sitting in the living room and watching TV. Normally, my dad is king of that castle, but he was on the phone with a buddy so I started watching TOMMY. I was probably ¾ of the way through when dad got off the phone, watched what was going on the screen for about a billionth of a second, then said, “what is this, I don’t want to watch this.” So the channel was changed and it was a couple of years before I actually caught the end of this rock opera. That didn’t stop me from downloading music from the OMP and blaring it on road trips.
In my experience, rock operas are always weird. They can be non-linear, metaphorical, and more fun than plot. I should add a caveat that for me, “weird” is generally good.
TOMMY is the story of a boy, then man suffering from emotional catatonia as a result of witnessing a violent act when young. His parents don’t understand and seek to find a cure. They reach out to (at the time) modern science and new age cures. It is the ‘60s after all! Finally, his mother breaks through the catatonia, and Tommy emerges. Suddenly, he is a messiah for the scores of disenfranchised British youth. Messiahs always fly high, very close to the sun, but not for very long.
The Who’s Tommy is a vast undertaking. There’s very little dialogue that isn’t sung. There are a lot of people who just aren’t into that. They want linear plot lines, easy metaphors, and happy musical endings. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder, however.
One thing (of many things) I like about FRC is their ability to really use their space. To date, I’ve seen three shows, and every single time I feel like I’m in a different space. Set decoration was minimal, but extremely effective. Tommy is a very technical show: the very beginning starts off with a shadow story. To be honest, I think I could have seen the entire show like that! It was incredibly choreographed, and coupled with the videos and projections, we were brought into ‘40s-‘60s London. A heavily technical show like that could be disastrous brought on by something as minor as an uncharged battery, but aside from some minor sound mixing issues (which seemed to be rectified in the second act), the added boost of multi-media wedded well with the actors and music.
Everyone always has their favorite part in a film, an episode, and a play. For FRC’s Tommy, it was the last 15-10 minutes. It is in these moments, we see the purpose of the rock opera. Now, the play diverges from the film, and it ends differently than the movie, but I found the play ending a little more poignant (and a little more heavy on the Tommy=messiah metaphor). I did see the parallels between then and now. In the play, we see youth desperately trying to believe in someone; to have a leader they can count on, understand, model after. It shows the danger of such blind devotion, of the inability to think for oneself, and the destructive nature of a disappointed group after their idol has fallen from a pedestal.
Tommy has a relatively young cast, which should only serve to amaze you when you witness their talent. They dwelt in this stylized performance very comfortably. The ensemble switched through their characters with ease. Felix Yoder and Ty Kennedy were excellently cast as the young and grown-up Tommy respectively. Yoder was able to portray a very haunted look, while Kennedy exuded the raw enthusiasm only the recently awakened can feel.
Even if Pinball Wizard is the only familiar song on the list, do go out to see Front Row Centre’s showing of The Who’s Tommy. It runs until January 23, with a lot of showtimes. Visit their website for more information at www.frontrowcentre.ca