October 20, 2020

1993-04-23 – The Journal News

1993 04 23 The_Journal_News_Fri__Apr_23__1993_ 2

tTommy’ could have a long run on Broadway

continued from C1

rock opera will draw young people
who don’t go to the theater much,
for whom Broadway means “Cats,”
“Les Miz” and “Phantom.”

But any kid who sees “Tommy"
as his first Broadway show may
decide to acquire the habit. It’s not a
bad way to discover the theater.

They call it “The Who’s Tommy”
but it is really Broadway’s
“Tommy," with state-of—the-art
stagecratt by McAnuff, who gave us
“Big River,” and dances in the
Broadway idiom by Wayne Cilento.

Cilento owes most here to
Patricia Birch, who created the
dances for “Grease.”

Yet the music is purely rock, the
dominant sounds being the twang of
an electric guitar and the falsetto of
an amplified voice. Show music it
isn’t. but it sticks to the ear.

The songs (only one has been
added for Broadway) are those so
familiar to all — even a critic who
thought it would all be news to him.

“Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel
Me,” “Listening to You" — even I
knew the lyrics. The atmosphere is
that of a rock concert. There are
even burly bouncers around the
theater armed with walkie-talkies.
Seems some audience members can
get a little unruly.


What: ‘The Who's Tommy'

Music and lyrics: Pete

Book: Townshend and Des

Director: McAnuff

Theater: St. James. 246 W.
44th St.

Tickets: $20 to $65
Telephone: (212) 239-6200

In brief: A glittering rock
opera based on the 1969
album. strictly for boomers
and their kids.

The show, set in a lower-class
British milieu, is steeped in late-‘60s
alienation. But that feeling isn’t
alien to teens in the ’90s. apparently.

The title character is an autistic
boy who was struck dumb at an
early age when he witnessed a
murder. A rapid, cinematic montage
opens the show and lays out the
premises. which start with Tommy’s
birth during World War II.

From his early trauma onward,

Tommy’s thoughts are locked in his
head, even when he is tormented by
the other kids and abused by a
lecherous uncle (Paul Kandel).

But, boy, can the kid play
pinball! It’s the only level on which

'he functions, and in the pinball

arcade he is like an idiot savant.

The adult Tommy (Michael
Cerveris) emerges about midway
through Act One. When he stares in
the mirror, he is visited by his
younger selves, most notably the. 10-
year-old Tommy (Buddy Smith).

When Tommy’s mom breaks that
mirror, midway through Act Two, it
is a breakthrough for Tommy’s
psyche, and he can communicate
with the world. In one of the show’s
more improbable deveIOpments.
Tommy becomes a media celebrity
and something close to a rock star
— until his public turns on him.

“Listening to You" is the show’s
climax and finale, and it brings the
audience to its feet in a state of
delirium. McAnuff stages it with
maximum “Les Miz"-style
dramatics, though the lyrics are

“Tommy" has a virtually
anonymous cast that can be replaced
at will, with no damage to the
production. Cerveris. dressed all in
white is assuredly cute as Tommy,
and he can sing.

Cheryl Freeman has an arresting

moment as the Gypsy, singing about
herself as the “Acid Queen,” who
offers a cure for Tommy’s ailment.
But the encounter is aborted (as a
latter-day lesson about drugs?), and
the scene makes little sense.

But this show is not about
performers. It’s about rock music,
smoke and mirrors — and 31 TV
screens popping with terrific video
imagery. “Tommy" knows its
audience, and that audience will find
it, for years to come I have no




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