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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Who's Tommy is a Rockin' Season Finale for The Village Theatre

Also see David's review of L'Affaire d'Amour

Tommy
Lisa Estridge
It takes a rock opera to rock a Village, at least Issaquah's family oriented Village Theatre, more often known for cozy, family and senior skewing shows like The Sound of Music and Bye Bye Birdie. But rockin' the Village to its very rafters is a super high-octane production of The Who's Tommy, directed with flair and creativity by Brian Yorkey, the recently exited Associate Artistic director of the company. Even those whose tastes run more towards Sondheim or Kander & Ebb (such as myself) cannot fail to be impressed by what Yorkey and his talented cast and creative team have created.

This adaptation of The Who's Tommy, first a 1969 recording sensation, then an over-the-top Ken Russell film, hit Broadway in 1993 under the splashy direction of Des McAnuff, who co-authored the book with the original piece's composer/lyricist Pete Townsend (additional music for this version is by John Entwistle and Keith Moon). The basic story is that of the odyssey of young Walker, a British WWII baby, who witnesses at the tender age of four the murder of his Mum's lover by his hitherto MIA Soldier Dad. Tommy experiences psychological blindness and deafness, and becomes a mute. But as he grows, subjected to cruel abuse by his creepy Uncle Ernie and vicious Cousin Kevin, Tommy reveals himself to be a "Pinball Wizard," and, in the words of one of the best known songs in the score, "That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball." Tommy is eventually turned into a commercial icon, but finally regains his lost senses, and finds the compassion to forgive those who have treated him cruelly and go on with his life.

Yorkey's production adds a marvelous touch of a contemporary teenaged boy coming across an audio relic, recalled by some as a stereo phonograph system with turntable. After (hilariously) tossing aside a vintage Beatles LP as if it were a Frisbee, the lad places the phonograph needle on the original Tommy recording, and a few blasts of music later, we are into the show, which is a visual phantasmagoria thanks to the stellar and totally psychedelic scenic, lighting and projection design by Alex Berry. Musical director Tim Symons keeps the volume up but not ear shattering, and his musicians render the often splendid and always interesting score with a passion and power matched by the rock solid principal cast and ensemble. Tommy at age four is the adorable Rachel Lau, at age ten the believably shattered Bryan Sevner, and as a young adult the remarkably gifted Michael K. Lee; the three of them together create a mesmerizing Tommy Walker. Brandon O'Neill as Captain Walker continues his maturation into one of the Puget Sound's most accomplished young leading men, combining surliness with sensitivity in both his acting and singing. Catherine Carpenter Cox sings with skill but is a rather one level figure as Mrs. Walker, but Matt Wolfe as Uncle Ernie is an eerily effective song and dance man/sexual deviant and Jadd Davis is a revelation as the bullying cousin Kevin. Decked out in the most resplendently decadent of costume designer Melanie Burgess' outfits, Lisa Estridge meets the Tina Turner comparison head on and is more than equal to the task as the Gypsy (aka Acid Queen).

Fine supporting turns are offered by the redoubtable Timothy McCuen Piggee as the Minister/Specialist, Tyler Rhodes as Mrs. Walker's lover and Jarvis Antonio Green as the Hawker, but the show also owes a large debt to the ensemble members who handle the demanding and scintillating choreography by Kathryn Van Meter like Broadway pros.

Doing a show that is so decidedly PG-13, and likely to send most of the senior set home to their DVD's of Singin' in the Rain was a brave move and a real gamble for Village Theatre. But just as the Broadway theatre has room for works as diverse as Spring Awakening, Curtains and Grey Gardens, let us hope there is enough of a demand for something different, as long as it is this well presented, to encourage Village towards more such diverse fare in the future.

The Who's Tommyruns through June 24 at the Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N. in Issaquah, and June 29-July 15 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett. Additional information is available at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David-Edward Hughes



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