Rave review for "Star Search" Tommy

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 18 06:08:09 CDT 2004

>From Broadway World at:
(includes picture)

'Tommy' Rocks Boston
September 17, 2004 - by Jan Nargi

When a busload of senior citizens from Erie,
Pennsylvania gives “The Who’s Tommy” a standing
ovation, you know it’s a good production. That’s
right. At a recent performance of Stoneham Theatre’s
clever restaging of Pete Townshend’s classic rock
opera, an audience full of golden agers visiting
Boston courtesy of InnovaTours gave an enthusiastic
“thumbs up” to the proceedings. Mind you, at
intermission a majority of these mature theater goers
did seem a bit bewildered; but by the time the
energetic young cast took its final bow, these same
patrons were on their feet, clapping to the beat of
the band.

The Stoneham staging of this masterwork – originally
produced as a concept album in 1969 and later
performed in concert, as a ballet, a movie, and
finally a Tony Award-winning musical – proves that
“Tommy” is both ageless and timeless. Its universal
themes of childhood trauma, psychological escape,
miraculous recovery, unwanted celebrity, the
acceptance of harsh realities, and ultimate
reconciliation and forgiveness all transcend any
generational definitions implied by the period rock
music. Though “Tommy” takes place in London from the
1940s through the 1960s, its ethereal qualities
suggest an otherworldliness that is rooted in no
specific city or decade.

Director and choreographer Robert Jay Cronin, artistic
director of New York’s Ergo Theatre Company and
associate artistic director of Northern Stage, has
fashioned a simultaneously powerful yet intimate
portrayal of Tommy’s amazing journey from that “deaf,
dumb and blind kid” to the sensational “pinball
wizard” who is revered and adored by the crowds.
Amidst the spectacle of RAF paratroopers descending
down firehouse poles and white-coated doctors glowing
menacingly under black light, “Tommy” also has moments
of real tenderness. Scenes in which the younger and
older title character gaze at each other in a mirror
reflect Tommy’s ongoing attempts to find the
understanding and consolation that the real world
doesn’t give him. There is also the gently hovering
presence of the older Tommy as narrator during the
younger Tommy’s enduring abuses. An almost Christ-like
quality in the older Tommy’s attentions here conveys
an aura of angelic protectiveness that somehow
reassures us that there is hope for the young boy’s

Rising pop star Jake Simpson (2003 and 2004 winner of
television’s “Star Search” hosted by Arsenio Hall), is
very appealing as the tormented but resilient Tommy.
His strong voice and even stronger stage presence
interpret the complexities of Pete Townshend’s superb
score with the clarity and confidence of a much more
seasoned musical theater professional. A uniformly
good supporting cast that combines equity actors with
students from Stoneham Theatre’s Resident Youth
Ensemble also perform with polish and skill.

A real strength of Stoneham Theatre’s “Tommy” is the
excellent balance struck between the six-piece band’s
hard-rock edge and the ensemble’s powerful vocals.
Unlike so many rock operas of the day where musicians
seem to compete with singers for attention, this
production actually has a band that accompanies rather
than obscures its actors. The words to such classic
songs as “Amazing Journey,” “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m
Free” and “We’re not Gonna Take It” are all
articulated beautifully without sacrificing any of the
music’s energy or drive.

While not performed in a big venue, the four-year-old
Stoneham Theatre’s current production of “The Who’s
Tommy” is a big winner. It is an exciting fusion of
pop culture and musical theater that celebrates the
tenacity of the human spirit. With strong artistic and
musical direction, solid performances, and a rocking
good band, “Tommy” deserves a big audience.

Performances: now through October 3
Box Office: 781-279-2200 or www.StonehamTheatre.org

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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