‘Tommy’ sputters along on empty
Design is the show
in dated rock opera
BY JACKIE DEMALINE
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Who's Tom my is a concert-
cum-theater event for the middle-
aged. The folks who put it together
know what we like to do: We like
to sit and watch.
Twenty-ﬁve years after Pete
Townshend’s song cycle blasted
out of our speakers and into our
brains, it’s comfy as old shoes, safe
as Disneyland — and reminds you
of nothing so much as the circus.
It feels a lot older than 25.
For anybody who missed the
'608, Tommy is that sweet little
tyke who sees daddy come home
from the war and kill mommy’s
lover. Tommy retreats to a better
place somewhere inside himself.
He’s deaf, dumb and blind — some
small protection for the Grimm
world that is the post-war London
suburb where the family friend
molests him, the delinquent cousin
tortures him and daddy has the
bright idea of handing him off to an
acid queen for a night to see if she
can provide the shock to the sys-
tem to cure what ails him.
Imagine everyone’s surprise
when Tommy connects with a pin-
ball machine. It may have been a
surprise then. Today, a parent with
a Nintendo in the house wouldn’t
so much as blink at this dramatic
turn. In any event, Tommy is ele-
vated to pop icon.
Tommy is a triumph for the
design team and not much else.
The design work is so dazzling, in
fact, that you barely notice Tom my
is empty of everything but light
and sound — sound that was gar-
bled on opening night to the point
that too often the lyrics were indis-
tinguishable. But, oh, how that per-
cussion reverberates through your
The cast is capable but not
charismatic. The best work, or at
least the highest energy level
comes from Steve Isaacs in the
title role and Roger Bart as nasty
Cousin Kevin, leading the malevo-
lent local lads.
There’s nothing dramatic to
hang on to — pop psychology
remains slippery — and if the rest
of it feels old, the touchy-feely
tion ending is 500000 ’903 it makes
the ’603 look good.
The rock still rolls, but videos,
slide projections, dry ice, ﬂashing
lights and a whoosh of ﬂame is, by
any definition, just smoke and mir-
Tommy makes you wish some-
body would have the guts to create
a contemporary, real marriage of
theater and rock. Given its suc-
cess, maybe somebody will.
The Who’s Tommy, Taft Theatre,
through March 13. Tickets $28-