October 23, 2020

1994-02-24 – Star Tribune

1994 02 24 Star_Tribune_Thu__Feb_24__1994_

The Who’s Tommy

Who’s ‘Tommy’ is a marvel

When: Ordway Music Theatre.

of techno-rock wizardry

By Mike Steele
Staff Writer

“The Who’s Tommy" is a pumped-
up, techno-bulldozer of a musical, a
slightly naive, psychedelic ’60s rock
show crashing into all the millenium-
ending electronic sophistication that
modern show biz has to offer.

Now plu into the Ordway Music
Theatre or a week (it will return in

l une for a longer run), “Tommy" is a
marvel of stagecrafi — set by John
Arnone. projections by Wendall K.
Harrington, lights by Chns Parry. Its
multiscteen computer-senerated
projections, spinning set pieces.
flashing lights, live video. ear- .
splitting amplification and explodin
pinball technology threaten to engul
all of St. Paul in its throbbing glitter.
As we used to say. it’s a trip. man.

At the center of things, not quite
overwhelmed by the hi tech
around it — feeding o it, in fact —
is that anthem of the Woodstock era.
Pete Townshend’s great classic rock
score. The forty- and even fifty-
somethin. audience hangs on every
chord. remembering those Aquarian
days with all their idealism and
innocent adventure. letting the great
tunes — “Sensation," “Acid Queen."
“Pinball Wizard." “See Me. Feel
Me.“ “I'm Free" — summon up
flower power memories.

Director Des McAnufl' has joined
qunshend in reworking the book a

Theater review

bit, to bring it into sync with ’90s
sensibilities. many of which are
equally innocent. “Tommy" remains
a thinly disguised metaphor for the
power and limits of rock stardom.
Here young Tommy, seeing his
father kill his mother‘s lover
following his unexpected return from
World War ll, looks into a mirror
and becomes deaf, dumb and blind.
He heals himself by becoming a
ginball wizard, a pop icon worshiped
y adoring fans. But his elevation to
sacredness proves another form of
prison, and not until the mirror is
smashed (one of the theater’s

hoariest cliches) does he find

Telling his worshipers that he can't
be their savior. that they shouldn‘t
want to be like him when he wants to
be like them, that they have to find
themselves, he returns to the
embrace of the family that almost
destroyed him. it‘s an angular look at
family values. but there you have it.

The narrative is banal when it isn’t
pretentious, but ultimately it doesn't
matter too much. The glory of
“Tommy“ is that it truly is a techno-
rock show. the pulsatin music and
the sensory overload o the imagery
elevating it beyond words. which are
its weakest pomt. If you took away
the pusic and the images you'd be

5th and Washington Sts.. St. Paul.

When: 4 and 8 pm. today; 8 pm.

Friday; 2 and 8 pm. Saturday and

Tlckmt $19 to $50. 224-4222.

left with limp rock lyrics. We aren‘t

talking Cole Porter or Stephen
Sondheim here.

Yet that’s exactly the way much

opera works. Try reading just the
libretto to “ll Trovatore" sometime.

The overwhelming emotions
generated by the music and the

sta ft sweep everything else

be ore them, dealing with this story
at a passionate rather than literal
level. and frankly it all sweeps by so
fast that you don‘t have much time
for intellectual niceties. And the
finale, a blend of “See Me, Feel Me"
and “Listening to You," is such an
emotional. high-volume knockout
that you're too but being thrilled to
worry about the gli ness of it all.

The toun'ng production is virtually as
big as the Broadway one. Former
MTV veejay Steve lsaacs projects the
same catatonic distance as did
Michael Cerveris on Broadway. but
he brings more hard edges and
authority to the role. Jessica
Molaskcy is superb as his mother.
and Jason Workman is fine as his
father. The ensemble handles both
Townshend's rocking melodies and
Wayne (‘ilento‘s witty. muscular
dances with great energy and