Let’s be honest: you probably don’t go to see “The Who’s Tommy” for the plot, right?
This classic rock opera by Peter Townsend and Des McAnuff is being presented in concert version by the Davis Musical Theater at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center through July 29, and you really don’t go to a concert version of Tommy for the plot.
Oh, the plot is there. It’s the story of six year old Tommy Walker, who witnesses the murder of his mother’s lover by his father and who then becomes deaf, dumb and blind because his parents tell him he didn’t see the murder, he didn’t hear the murder and he should never tell anybody about the murder. The boy grows up to become a pin ball wizard (“that deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball”), has a miraculous recovery of his senses, is hailed as a messiah, loses his followers, finds a way to forgive those who have done him wrong throughout his life. End of story.
But if you don’t know the story, the concert version of the plot will be very difficult to follow. In fact, darn near impossible.
A full stage version and the over-the-top movie are replete with dazzling costumes and sets and special effects. You won’t find any of that in this concert version. The cast sits in chairs on stage, in front of the seven-piece band or groups around microphones when time to sing. The few spoken words included are all but inaudible.
The costumes (coordinated by Jean Henderson) are simply black ensembles, with white for the performers who play Tommy at various ages in his life.
There are some projections on the back of the stage, but they are difficult to see because of the lighting and, if you don’t know the plot, they won’t make any sense anyway.
So if you have no costumes, no sets, and no discernible plot, what are you left with? Well, the music and the performances.
DMTC has not been known in the past for outstanding musical accompaniment, so I wondered how they would pull off a show where the orchestra would be the main focus. Quite well, as it turns out. With Director/Musical Director Steve Isaacson center stage, elevated on a platform with his drum set, there is a better than expected assortment of musicians. Jonathan Rothman and Erik Daniells are at the keyboards, Ben Wormeli and Tim Spangler are on guitar, Hal Wright is on the bass guitar and brave Scottt Sabian, on the French Horn does an excellent job of being a one-man horn section.
As for the singers, there are some who are outstanding and some who are not really up for solo rock performances, but fortunately the former outnumber the latter.
Peal Fearn and Kat DeLapp stand out from the rest as Tommy’s parents. Both have fabulous voices and rock out with the best of them.
Tommy is played at various ages by Maya Rothman (young Tommy), Sabrina Schloss (teen Tommy, who for some reason is not quite as tall as the younger Tommy), and Jon Jackson. The two younger Tommys have little to do but be the blind, deaf, mute boy and they handle that job well. Jackson is more a cerebral Tommy than a rocker Tommy, but he handles the task well. His “See Me, Feel Me” is very moving and his “I’m Free” gives him an opportunity to show his stuff.
(I will admit that the pinball number, without a pinball machine or any movement which would imitate someone playing a pinball machine was a little strange.)
Of the supporting cast, Scott Suwabe is outstanding in several small roles, as is Chris Peterson.
Abram Stein-Freer is appropriately menacing as Cousin Kevin, “The school bully,” and Steven Ross is terribly decadent as the child-molesting Uncle Ernie, who likes to “Fiddle About.”
Claire Impens is a somewhat subdued “Acid Queen” (I saw psychedellic graphics on the monitor of light board operator Arthur Vassar, but if there was an attempt to project them onto the back of the stage, it did not work.)
The enthusiasm of the cast for the show they are doing is apparent. The concert version works better than I thought it would. But if you want to know what’s supposed to be going on during the course of the show, I recommend renting the DVD first!