The Herald (Glasgow) on Tommy musical

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Wed Mar 30 06:27:09 CST 2005

On line at:

Tommy, King’s Theatre, Glasgow 

WHEN the New Seekers charted with a watered-down
version of The Who's mighty Pinball Wizard in the
1970s, little did they know they wouldn't be the last
top entertainers to drag the band's 1969 rock opera,
from which the song was culled, into the mainstream.
Because, more than 30 years on, TV cheeky chappie
Jonathan Wilkes is pretty much a perfect deaf, dumb
and blind kid who not only plays a mean pinball, but
becomes trapped by his own celebrity before truly
seeing the light.

Directors Guy Retallack and Keith Strachan are in tune
with their casting, as they rescue the piece from The
Who's original "concept album" as well as Ken
Russell's big-screen kitsch-fest. With such forbears
both products of their time, Retallack and Strachan
have stuck to composer Pete Townshend's original
intentions as he explored the semi-auto-biographical
fall-out of post-Second World War England's dreaming
in all its dysfunctional glory.
In this respect, Tommy, shocked into sensory
deprivation, abused and bullied by those closest to
him, represents the flip-side of the
never-had-it-so-good years, before bursting out of
himself and finding his own voice with a blood-rush of
teenage abandon. Yet this Tommy also goes for the here
and now. Its acknowledgment of the hidden phenomenon
of abuse pre-dates its gradual exposure by years, and
Tommy's self-deification, entourages, paparazzi and
all, is the world of Heat magazine made recognisable
by Wilkes's generation.

Of course, the songs are hot as well, even if
sometimes Pinball Wizard, I'm Free and Listening To
You sound like some un-rock'n'roll voices fronting a
stadium-size tribute act. Then again, recognising that
rock-star excess is just one more branch of showbiz is
the point. This is why Wilkes's old mucker, Robbie
Williams, or even Pete Doherty, if he deigned to turn
up on time, would be an even more perfect Tommy than
Wilkes. Dear Jonathan only spoiled the irony with a
very showbiz goading of the audience to get on its
feet. That, like sheep, we followed is the blindest
thing of all.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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