October 29, 2020

1999-04-29 – Chicago Tribune

1999 04 29 Chicago_Tribune_Thu__Apr_29__1999_

Crazy flipper fingers

‘Tommy’ revival a rollicking reminder
of Townshend’s musical wizardry

By Richard Christlanun

TRIBUNE CHIEF CRITIC

‘ he Who’s Tommy," at
the Auditorium The-
atre through Sunday, is

the latest, and maybe
the best, version of one
of rock music’s grand creations.

Pete Townshend’s “rock opera,”
introduced by The Who in 1969,
has had several incarnations in
films and theater, the most nota-
ble being Ken Russell’s hyper-
glitzy 1975 movie and the elabo-
rate Tony Award-winning musical
of 1993.

In the years since that special
eflects-laden Broadway edition, we
have seen “Rent” and the revival
of “Chicago” make their marks in
music theater. This new rendition
of “Tommy” echoes both the
grunge look of the former and the
stripped-down concert staging of
the latter.

There are some film and slide
projections, and lighting changes
are swift and complex throughout.
But scenery, except for a few
representational pinball machines,
is kept at a minimum.

The show is framed by light
towers and scaffolding, with a
seven-piece band (Scott Woolley,
music director) on a raised plat-
form in the rear, from which
steps lead to the front perfor~
mance space. The 20 actors/
singers are dressed mostly in
black, with just a touch of cos-
tuming for roles such as the
punky Cousin Kevin (Michael
Gruber) and the dominatrix Acid
Queen (Virginia Woodruff).
Tommy, portrayed by a youngster
(Ross Ramone) and a young adult
(Michael Seelbach), is all in white.

Theater review

"the Who's Tommy"

When: Through Sunday
Whore: Auditorium Theatre, 50
E. Congress Pkwy.

Phone: 312-902-1500

Persons unfamiliar with the
story will have trouble finding
their way through “Tommy."
Never a theatrical narrative, but
rather a suite of rock numbers
loosely strung together, the
“opera” relies on an audience
acquainted with its tale of the
saintly, much abused, deaf, dumb "
and blind kid.

Judging from Tuesday’s open-
ing night, most of the customers
are among the faithful, ready to
cheer the big songs and clap along
for the grand finale.

For their money, they’ re getting
a vigorous, muscular presenta-
tion, directed by Worth Gardner
from the Broadway book by
Townshend and Des McAnufi'. The
cast’s voices are uniformly strong,
even the intense amplification
does not distort them.

The great star of the show is
Townshend’s music (not his lyr-
ics, which, aside from the famous
litany of “See me, feel me, touch
me, heal me,” are fairly banal).
The powerful melodic surge of the
score keeps “Tommy” at a driving
pace from start to finish.

Cobbled together from bits of
Eastern philosophy, loads of ’605
youth culture and Townshend’s
keen intelligence, “Tommy" is a
compelling rock vision. At the
Auditorium, it will still grab you.