October 23, 2020

1999-04-01 – Hartford Courant

1999 04 01 Hartford_Courant_Thu__Apr_1__1999_

M 0 THE HARTFORD COURANT 0 Thursday. April 1, 1999

ARTS OVERNIGHT

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Bushnell 5 ‘’Tommy A Barrage Of Rock

Reprinted from late editions of
Wednesday' 3 Courant.
Iy MALCOIM JOHNSON
Courant Theater Critic

t the intemiission of “The

Who's Tommy Broadway

in Concert,” The Bush-

nell’s opening night audi-
ence seemed struck dumb. Were
these the theatergoers who voted
that a most desired musiwl was
Pete Townshend’s rock opera about
a pinball wizard?

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By the end of this bizarre tale
(just how does playing a mean pin-
ball make a kid so rich and famous,
alter all?) the crowd seemed to have
adjusted itself to the barrage of
sound. though this was far from a
universal standing ovation. But the
final choral surge sent out a stmng
harmonic wave through the house,
reminding us that The Bushnell,
whatever its shortcomings for live
theater. is a great temple for rock.

Quite correctly, The Bushnell has
designated its production of “The
Who’s Tommy. Broadway in Con-
cert.” Well, at least the concert part
is truthful enough Despite the use
of some of the slides created by
Wendell K. Harrington _for Des
McAnufl‘s smashing production at
the St James Theatre. the new pro
duction by Worth Gardner bears
only a tangential relationship to the
original The touring “Tommy” oo-

produoed by The Bushnell and The
Playhouse Theater in Wilmington.
Del., is move like a rock show than

musical theater — in large part be-
cause of the material itself.

The inspiration for this “Broad-
way in Concert” production clearly
is “Chicago," one of the great hits of
the ’905, a revival that is far more
successful in New York and on tour
than it was the first time around.
But “Chicago" is very different
from “Tommy." Because it was cre
ated for the Broadway stage, it has
characters. In The Who‘s surreal op
era, there is really only Tommy
himself. as a silent boy and as a
adult with a strange genius. Cousin
Kevin. Uncle Ernie, Sally Simpson,
the Acid Queen and Dad and Mum,
Captain and Mrs. Walker, are mere
outlines, shadows.

“Tommy" was born at a time
when rock was exploding in the
wake of the Beatles’ "Sgt Pepper."
Everybody saw rock opera as the
new direction that would fuse the
electric impulses into art. But
“Tommy" was meant to be a con-
cert piece, dominated by the reedy
tenor shoutings of Roger Daltry. Its
meaning was sketchy, a grab bag of
themes sprung from struggling
postwar Britain as its empire
drained away.

Tommy, a “deaf and dumb and
blind kid," traumatized by witness-
ing the murder of his mother's lov-
er by his repatriated war hero fa-
ther and by his molestation by
Uncle Ernie, turned his mind to an

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THE WHO'S TOMMY: BROADWAY IN CON-
CERT , Music by Pete Townshend and book
by Townshend and Des McAnuff with addi-
tional music by John Entwhistle and Keith
Moon; directed by Worth Gardner; scenery
designed by John Farrell; costumes designed
by De Wayne Kirchner; lighting designed by
Jeffrey S. Koger; projections designed by
Wendell K. Harrington; musical direction and
conducting by Scot Woolley; sound design by
T. Richard Fitzgerald. Presented by The Bush-
nell, Douglas C. Evans, executive director,
The Playhouse Theatre, Patricia Dill, execu-
tive director, and Jeffrey Finn Productions,
Inc, at The Bushnell.

Mrs. Simpson, Minister’s Mfe ...... Lisa Asher
Judge ....................................... Michael Sabin
Mrs. Walker .................................. Lisa Capps
Specialist ....................... David Aron Damane
First Officer, Hawker .............. Vincent D'Elia
Uncle Ernie' .................................. Paul Dobie
Cousin Kevin ......................... Michael Gruber
Pinball Lad ................................ Sean Jenness
Pinball Lad ......................... David Josefsbe‘rg
Special Assistant ..................... Catrice Joseph
Minister ............................... Darren Matthias
Captain Walker Christopher Monteleone
Young Tommy ................ Kevin M. Raponey,
Ross Ramone
Tommy ............................... Michael Seelbach
Lover, Harmonica Player .. J. Robert Spencer
Sally Simpson ................ Denise Summerford

Gypsy ................................ Virginia Woodruff
ENSEMBLE; Angela Garrison, David Velarde,
Rachel Warren

SWING: Christine Rea

unknown art: pinball. Drugs also
figured in his emergence. with the
acid queen instructing him in life.
Tommy became the new messiah,
welcoming all into his house.

It was all part of those crazy
times, but it made no sense when
concretized on stage, even with
McAnufl‘s phantasmagorical pro-
duction, which planted poor Tom-
my atop a spinning pinball ma-

chine. in a metaphor for the hazards
of rock canonization. Gardner’s
stage contains no such extrava-
ganoes; the pinball machines look
like shopping carts. Instead. it feels
kind of like a very long number
from a television music awards
show, with the chorus in black, the
Tommys in white, and the support-
ing characters in various costumes,
denoting no particular era Erector
set frames suggest an outdoor con-
cert. out of “The Rose.”

The Bushnell‘s ‘Tommy" does
boast a compelling and oddly holy
central figure in Michael Seelbach,
a slender boyish blond with a pow-
erful and flexible pop heldentenor.
Paul Dobie makes an amusingly
leering Uncle Ernie, Michael
Gruber brings a modem rocker
glam to Cousin Kevin, and Virginia
Woodrufi uses screaming soprano
like a siren from‘hell as the Acid
Queen. The onstage band pours on
the heavy metal and the harmonies
are strong and tight. As a concert. it
is solid The Who. As musical the
ater, it is far from Broadway — even
in these sad, benighted days.

“The Who’s Tommy: Broadway
in Concert” continues through Sun-
day at The Bushnell. 166 Capitol
Ave. Performances are today and
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8
pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm. and
Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm. Tickets:
$16.50 to $49.50. Box office: (860) 987-
5900. Telecharge: (800) 2333123.