Reviews of "Star Search" Tommy

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Tue Sep 14 05:42:24 CDT 2004

>From the Boston Herald at:

`Tommy' proves deaf, dumb and blind to power of Who's
By Terry Byrne
Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Pete Townshend is famous for smashing his guitar to
end a Who concert. But the musicians in the Stoneham
Theatre production of ``The Who's Tommy'' should
destroy their instruments before they begin to play.
It would save everyone the torment of listening to
them mangle some of rock's most famous guitar riffs. 
More than most musicals, ``The Who's Tommy'' requires
musicians who can deliver the score's emotional
intensity through powerful guitar chords and an
insistent beat. The story of the young boy who
retreats to a deaf, dumb and blind world after
childhood trauma, is a swirl of action driven by those
songs. Even if you've never heard them before, the
impact of a few of those signature musical phrases
should go right to your gut. 
But the ``musicians'' at Stoneham clearly have never
listened to this music before. They read the notes off
their charts without any understanding of the meter or
rhythm. When ``I'm Free'' came off sounding like
``Smoke on the Water'' (the first song most guitar
players learn), it was obvious these people were
complete amateurs. Although it may have been too
expensive to hire a horn section for some of the most
famous segments, it's inconceivable that musical
director/conductor Angelyn Fullarton couldn't program
the sounds into one of the two keyboards. 
The come-on for this production is the theatrical
debut of ``Star Search'' winner Jake Simpson in the
title role. Simpson does have a lovely voice, but he
has little stage charisma. There are, thankfully,
other standout performances in the show, including
Scott Marshall (clearly a talent who should be seen
more often), who plays a demonic and energized Cousin
Kevin; Robyn Elizabeth Lee, who combines a beautiful
voice with some sympathetic acting as Tommy's mother,
Mrs. Walker; and the always game Robert Saoud. 
Director Robert Jay Cronin seems to feel it's
essential to cash in on Simpson's marquee value, and
so he rearranges the opening of the show - where, oh
where, are those wrenching opening notes? - slowing
the action to a crawl. 
With a cast of 20 on Charlie Morgan's bleak set
(distinguished only by two fire poles, which several
company members had difficulty dealing with), Cronin's
direction consisted primarily of crowd control. He is
also credited with the choreography, which consists
ofmacarena-style moves that might be better suited to
the Patriots cheerleaders. 
Although the company seems to be working very hard,
it's difficult to look at them because Kendra Bell's
costumes are so garish, ill-fitting and inappropriate.
Brown gaucho pants with purple stockings? An Acid
Queen whose pantyhose waistband is clearly visible
every time she lifts an arm? Cronin's choices seem to
have little to do with the show, and so we watch and
wait for any of it come together or engage us. 
To drain ``The Who's Tommy'' of any emotion is a
shame, but to mangle some of rock's best music is a
crime. Although Saturday night's performance was
interrupted by a false fire alarm, it seemed more
appropriate as a warning about what was to come. I'm
sorry I sat back down.

>From the Boston Globe at:

Little wizardry in this `Tommy'
By Gina Perille, Globe Correspondent
September 14, 2004

Jake Simpson comes as advertised in the title role of
"The Who's Tommy" at the Stoneham Theatre. He's an
astonishing singer who can handle the vocal acrobatics
of this rock opera created by Pete Townshend and Des
McAnuff. And Simpson is easy on the eyes and sweetly
luminous, with his all-white garb and golden locks.
But he is surrounded by an uneven ensemble and plagued
by technical elements that detract rather than

"Tommy" is based on a 1969 album by the British rock
band The Who, and it became a concert tour, a movie,
and a ballet long before it ever reached Broadway in
1993. The story follows the life of a young boy who is
rendered deaf, dumb, and blind at the age of 4 after
watching his father shoot his mother's lover upon
returning from a World War II prison camp. Simpson
plays the adult Tommy and, before stepping into the
role himself, he interacts with two younger versions
of himself -- at age 4 (Emily Sheeran) and age 10
(played alternately by Connor Barry and Christina
Ventura). Tommy is eerily responsive to only two
things: a mirror in his London home and pinball
machines. When he makes a miraculous recovery, he
becomes an instant cult figure.

"Tommy" is simultaneously about the ravages of war,
celebrity, abuse, and personal survival. If that
sounds like a lot to handle, it is -- at least for the
Stoneham production. The Who's brand of rock 'n' roll
is not well served by unintelligible lyrics and cast
members straining, even screeching, to be heard above
a skilled if over-amplified onstage band. "Tommy" is
essentially all song with some bridging dialogue
thrown in. The principal performers at Stoneham do
deliver capable performances -- when we can understand
them -- but they exist in a frantic musical
environment that seems to generate chaos when it's
aiming for catharsis.

Director and choreographer Robert Jay Cronin does
better with the action than the dance. For every
moment of thoughtful staging among the leading
performers, there is a milquetoast equivalent of
chorus dancing to cancel it out. Despite this, Simpson
(who is conspicuously spared from the choreography)
delivers songs such as "See Me, Feel Me," "Sensation,"
and "Pinball Wizard" with palpable emotion. In
addition to Simpson, there are other vocal bright
spots in the 24-member cast, including a spirited
Scott Marshall as Cousin Eddie and Thomas Keating as
Tommy's long-suffering father. Robert Saoud also
skillfully brings his own brand of licentiousness and
absurdity to Tommy's Uncle Ernie. Unfortunately, their
opportunities to connect with the audience are greatly
diminished by a production that inexplicably wavers
among too loud, downright deafening, and entirely

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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