December 8, 2021

1996-01-14 – Tampa Bay Times

1996 01 14 Tampa_Bay_Times_Sun__Jan_14__1996_

'Tommy' packs an emotional waIIOp


The Who's Tommy

Today at Ruth Eckerd Hall. 1111
McMullen-Booth Road. Clearwater,

rm: Pop Music cm

CLEARWATER — After near-
ly two decades of hearing classic-
rock staples like the Who's See Me,
For! Me, and Pinball Wizard blast-
ing from the radio, it’s a little jar-
ring to see it all wrapped in a
Broadway-style package for the
stage version of the band's epic
album Tommy.

But what's surprising, even up-
on seeing the scaled-down touring
version that hit Ruth Eckerd Hall on
Friday night, is how well Who mas-
termind Pete "l‘oWnshend’s surreal
head trip translates to the world of
greasepaint and curtain calls.

Any rock fan worth his salt
knows the story: Tommy, a child of
'40s-era Britain, shuts out the
world by going deaf, dumb and blind
after seeing his war-hero father
murder his mother's wartime lover.

After being molested and
abused by an uncle and cousin,
Tommy's skill as a pinball player
emerges, bringing fame and legions
of fans. Still, Tommy's parents,
racked by guilt, keep up efforts to
cure their son, trying medical, spiri-

after, but the smaller production
that unwound before a near-capaci-
ty crowd at Eckerd Hall still packed
an emotional wallop, thanks mostly
to the actor playing Tommy, 18-
year-old Michael Seelbach.

Capturing perfectly the middle
ground between Broadway theat-
rics and rock passion, Seelbach’s
vocals cut through the eight-piece
rock band that served as the orches-
tra —— delivering a vibrant perfor-
mance that stood well next to
time-tested versions by Elton John
and Who frontman Roger Daltrey.

If only the same could be said
for Seelbach’s colleagues, particu-
larly Benjamin Cannon, who played
Tommy's evil Cousin Kevin and the
leader of the pinball lads who even-
tually make Tommy a star.

During the show’s pre-intermis-
sion climax, a rousing rendition of
Pinball Wizard, feedback problems
with Cannon’s microphone — com-
bined with singing that fell too far
toward Broadway convention —
robbed this number of the trium-
phant impact it truly needed.

Martin Luther King

Still, stacked next to the show’s
blockbuster entertainment value,
such complaints seem like nitpick-
ing. Packed with quality perfor—
mances — from Tommy’s earnestly
dedicated mother (Erika Greene) to
the gypsy Acid Queen role made
famous by Tina Turner (here, it was
an incendiary Tracey Lee) — F ri-
day's night’s production dazzled.

By the time Tommy emerged
from his willful deaf, dumb and blind
state — his mother reached him by
shattering a mirror, bringing a
breathtaking rain of reflective faux
glass shards — the audience was
hooked. An impressive version of
I'm Free followed, as Tommy re-
vealed to his legions of fans the
story's central irony: While they
looked to him as an unreachable
ideal, he only wanted to experience
the world with the same fullness
they took for granted.

Creators of this latest Tommy
have crafted a tale that ably contin-
ues the musical's tradition, dancing
on the fine line between rock spec-
tacle and Broadway theatrics.


tual and sexual means. gRegu'a'. Holiday Week
Using an ingenious mix of proj- _____ervuce '5' —'— Serv_Ic_e 's'
ected images and pantomimed ac- Residential
Mon. & Thurs. Tues. & Thurs.

tion, the story of Tommy’s early
years moved at light speed, as
staged Friday night by Big League

I've never seen the 1993 Broad-
way version of Tommy, or the big-
budget tour that hit Florida not long

Tues. & Fri. Wed. 8 Fri.“

Commercial No Change

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