REVIEW: QUADROPHENIA, Liverpool Empire
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 26 11:28:07 UTC 2009
by Lee Calvert
More than any other composer in popular music, Pete Townshend believes that his genre should be seen as an art form. So it is perhaps appropriate that, following the success of Tommy, another of his meisterwerks should make it to the stage as Quadrophenia, the musical based on the 1973 double-album, opens its Liverpool run.
Thankfully, the plot of Quadrophenia is a great deal simpler than a deaf, dumb and blind boy who is cured, invents a religion only for his followers to attempt to kill him before he then runs up a mountain. This latest offering concerns Jimmy, a young mod in 1960s London who is treated abysmally by his parents, co-workers, women and friends. We follow his journey as he seeks out belonging meaning and, of course, the love of a woman - or more precisely The Girl, played beautifully here by the 18-year-old Sydney Rae White. He ultimately fails, but that does not render this musical a damp squib; from the opening bars of "The Real Me" to the heart-rending finale "Love Reign O'er Me", it is exhilirating and moving.
Interestingly, Jimmy is portrayed by four actors, each representing a different facet of his personality; Romantic, Hypocrite, Tough Guy and Lunatic. All four performances from the young actors are outstanding, and the sometimes confusing nature of all four being on stage I felt helped to pull the audience closer to Jimmy's inner turmoil. Special mention must go to Ryan O'Donnell, whose performance as the most prominent Romantic Jimmy is utterly spellbinding; his voice swings from vulnerably soft to soaring and gut-wrenching, and the pain and anger of Jimmy is visible in his every sinew.
The set is minimalist in tone, with the band sat on scaffolding behind the performers, giving the show a gig-like feel, the only nod to technology being a rotating plate centre stage. What this allows is for the cast to work their magic, and boy do they work: dancing, acrobatics, climbing the scaffold - and all while singing rock songs.
There were some negatives. The original Quadrophenia album was a stream of consciousness from Jimmy himself and converting that narrative to a stage one has left it unclear at times. This is at its most obvious in The Godfather sections of Act I. Additionally, for no apparent reason other than (I assume) to keep the jukebox musical fools happy, some totally unrelated Who hits have been crowbarred in - they add nothing to the plotting, with the exception of the poignant "So Sad About Us" in Act II. Also, the pacing is not quite right; Act II, set in Brighton, is far more snappy than the London-based first half.
The danger with a musical of Quadrophenia is that it will only appeal to people who are already pretty serious fans of The Who. Indeed, I myself have to admit to being such a person. However, judging by the response of my partner, and the cross-section of the populace who were on their feet applauding at the end, it is safe to say this is a show for a far broader audience. See it while you can.
-Brian in Atlanta
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