Archikulture Digest

The Who’s Tommy

The Who’s Tommy

Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend

Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff

Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon

Directed by Donald Rupe

Musical Direction by Heather Langs

Starring Wesley Slade, Heather Kopp, and Arthur Rowan

Choreographed by Christine Caviness

Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL</strong>

It’s not the Kurt Russell movie, and it’s not The Who’s album, but it’s still a damn fine piece of musical theatre. Assuming you didn’t grow up with a draft card, I’ll summarize the story: At the beginning of WW2, Captain Walker (Arthur Rowan) and Mrs. Walker (Heather Kopp) marry, she bears him a child while he’s shot down and presumed dead. After an appropriate time, Tommy Walker (Slade) pops out and mom takes up with another man. When the good Captain reappears, Tommy is traumatized and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. Despite abuse from friends and relatives he’s a whiz at pinball and becomes a pop sensation. The Walkers seek a cure but not even the acid laced Gypsy (Valerie Witherspoon) can help. The only promise is narcissism; Tommy stares at himself until there’ a breakthrough. After that it’s a short trip to fawning followers, rough hangers on and the sort of burn out tabloids love.

There’s no trace of mutant Christian symbolism, no beans and soap suds fantasy sequence, no oily summer camp shenanigans, but what we do have is a surprisingly moving story embellished with excellent video overlay. Mr. Slade even looks like Rodger Daltrey; at the open the cast lifts him in the air and recreates a scene from the gatefold of the original vinyl release. Mrs. Walker is both tragic as the mother of a misfit boy and a survivor of war horrors plus she has a clear and vital voice (What About the Boy? /Christmas/Go to the Mirror). Captain Walker is a present force in Tommy’s later childhood and a pleasant tenor (Do You Think It’s Alright?/ I Believe My Own Eyes.) Cousin Kevin (Jake Mullen) reminded me of Kevin Bacon in Animal House, here he had a polished viciousness as he tortures the pre-teen Tommy (Jared Warren). Creepy Uncle Ernie (Juan Cantú) has the decency to close the curtains as he abuses Tommy but his alcoholism progresses until he’s only useful as Tommy’s camp greeter. The only weak song was the balladic “Acid Queen” by Gypsy, it’s not that it’s badly sung, but it has a country ballad feel that jars with tonight’s classic rock atmosphere.

The sound was surprisingly full for a three piece group; the band hid backstage and we never saw them but they took The Who’s wild antics and tamed them down to Musical Theatre professionalism. There were some new baffles over the audience; I suspect they helped the sound besides adding atmosphere. Only a few rock operas exist, (the other chestnut being Jesus Christ Superstar) but the histrionics of rock and roll are a perfect match to the over the top drama of opera. And so what if the messianic life style of a 1970’s pop star is now a feel good family reunion? The music still rocks and the story still rolls.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com


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