Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Who's Tommy
The Who's Tommy recently marked its 35th year of being part of popular culture. It first took form as a concept album that hit the U.S. charts in 1969. From there, it evolved into a film and eventually it became a Broadway musical. Studio Theatre has chosen to celebrate the anniversary of Tommy by mounting a production of the show as part of their SecondStage series. Sadly, this rather bland effort does not pay a proper tribute to the rock opera.
Tommy is the story of a boy who witnesses a terrible incident. As a result, he becomes "deaf, dumb and blind." As the story unfolds, Tommy moves away from the demons of his past and discovers a future that no one could have predicted.
The best word to describe this production is lazy. It suffers greatly from poor direction, weak casting and terrible sound quality. Even the costumes look as if they were bought at the local discount store. Directed by Keith Alan Baker, the show lacks the intensity that it is known for. For the most part, the actors go through the motions but there is no spark in their performances. Mr. Baker failed to take any chances with this show. There is nothing new to experience and the messages that should be portrayed are lost.
For the most part, the show is miscast. At first glance, one would think they were watching a student production. The cast as a whole seems very young. Even the actors playing Tommy's parents seem a bit too young. Maddy Wyatt as Mrs. Walker and Larry Baldine as Captain Walker let their youth work for them in the first act. However, the characters never transition into maturity. Vocally, they both deliver inconsistent performances. As the title character, Yuval Samburski looks the part. He has fine vocal ability but he never seems to break out of his catatonic state even when it is appropriate to do so. He portrays so little charisma that is seems impossible that his Tommy has the ability to attract disciples. The ensemble creates a lackluster impression and does very little to improve the piece.
Nonetheless, there are two standouts in this group. Christopher Gallu provides some very good moments as the fiendish Uncle Ernie, but the real shining star in this production is Jeffery Peterson as Cousin Kevin. Peterson embodies his character, exhibiting boundless energy without overplaying his hand. He tackles his musical numbers with gusto and one can tell that he enjoys playing this role. He is the lone beacon in a sea of mediocrity.
On the night that this reviewer attended the show, the sound quality was just plain bad. The band seemed to be having a few sound issues and the microphone levels were way off. Often, the actors could not be heard over the band and throughout the performance popping, crackling and feedback could be heard. One would have hoped that a problem like this would have been addressed at intermission but the problems persisted into the second act.
The Who created a provocative rock opera with a driving score and it deserves to be performed with skill. The Studio Theatre is not the place to find that skill. One would be better served to rent the movie instead. This production is disappointing for those who have held Studio's prior work in high esteem. Tommy does not live up to the theater's usual standards. The Who's Tommy runs through August 8th.
The Studio Theatre
Tommy: Yuval Samburski