Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Who’s Tommy" **** till 3 October and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"**** till 3 October

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi

These two rock musicals, sharing identical opening and closing dates and each boasting a misfit leading man, are worth seeing and, more importantly, hearing.

"TOMMY"

book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff

music and lyrics by Pete Townshend

additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon

directed and choreographed by Robert Jay Cronin

musical direction by Angelyn Fullarton

Tommy … Jake Simpson
Mrs. Walker … Robyn Elizabeth Lee
Captain Walker … Thomas Keating
Uncle Ernie … Robert Saoud
Cousin Kevin … Scott Marshall
Tommy (10-year-old) … Connor Barry; Christina Ventura
Acid Queen … Sarah Corey
Specialist … Andrew Giordano
Chorus Leaders … Elizabeth Asti; Brad Bass
Sally Simpson … Allison Russell

Ensemble:

Andrew Barbato; Richard Buckley; Miguel Cervantes; Whitney Cohen;
Laura D. DeGiacomo; Bradley Jensen; Ceit McCaleb; Liza Nagle;
Ellen Peterson; Anika Seidman-Gati; Bradford William Simanski

Orchestra:

Conductor/Keyboard … Angelyn Fullarton
Bass … Brian Grochowski
Percussion … Mick Lewander
Guitar … Carl Phillips
Guitar … Bradley Royds
Keyboard … Dorothy Travis

Stoneham Theatre kicks off its 2004-2005 season with THE WHO’S TOMMY, The Who’s celebrated rock opera of a boy traumatized into blind-, deaf- and dumbness who becomes a pinball wizard and pop messiah; for its Broadway debut, Pete Townshend revised its ending to conclude on an upbeat note: Tommy, rather then encouraging his followers to become like him, now wants to join them, instead, after witnessing the beating of one of his female fans. The first commercially successful rock opera, telling a unified story with the genre’s sounds and aesthetics, TOMMY, aside from its chron-time (1940s-60s), still holds up --- now freed of its novelty, it may well prove to be timeless.

I missed seeing the Broadway production which was reportedly an exhilarating experience --- instead, I began with the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s punk interpretation: aside from Thay Floyd’s dazzling Acid Queen and an amazing forwards-and-backwards trauma sequence, the BTF evening was a mean-spirited one that concluded with the unlovable Tommy being shot by a vengeful Sally Simpson while Cousin Kevin battered Uncle Ernie to death with a baseball bat. The Stoneham production is a sugar pill in comparison despite the opera’s darkness; instead of punk, director/choreographer Robert Jay Cronin pours out two hours of flowing MTV; what this TOMMY may lack in stagecraft and machinery --- Mr. Cronin’s ensemble is forever pushing stairs and mirrors about; often, it seems, for mere movement’s sake --- it impresses with its own imaginative imagery (its glowing lab coats and gloves on a darkened stage, for example, are quite hallucinogenic) and it is exceptionally sung and danced by a large, energetic cast; indeed, there are moments, such as “Eyesight to the Blind”, “Pinball Wizard” and “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”, when the bread-and-butter suddenly jolts into brilliant cake.

Jake Simpson is the Stoneham Tommy and I feel obliged to mention that he first achieved celebrity as the winner of the CBS series, “Star Search”; having seen nor heard anything about him, beforehand, I conclude that Mr. Simpson is a throwback to the bubblegum idols of the late 60s/early 70s (i.e., sweet, not “hot”); he can get away with strolling through his role since Tommy is a radiant blank, anyway --- as for Mr. Simpson’s singing voice, it ranges from husky to enough of a ringing tone though the latter comes with some effort; should Mr. Simpson continue to belt in his upper register as he does here, he may eventually do damage to his still-young instrument (Martin Vreeland’s harsh lighting throws Mr. Simpson’s agreeable features into shadows throughout the performance; only at curtain call, when the lighting softens, does the audience see what he looks like, full-faced). If I single out Robert Saoud’s pedophilic Uncle Ernie for extra praise, I do so because the veteran Mr. Saoud gives a fleeting characterization amidst the kaleidoscopic swirl; the others, for all their youthful declaiming, tend to a rock-concert sameness.

I was wondering whatever happened to Sarah Corey after she impressed me as Sister Amnesia in the Lyric’s production of MESHUGGAH-NUNS! and was amused and entertained by her afro-haired Acid Queen; she still remains a talent to watch.

"HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH"

text by John Cameron Mitchell

music and lyrics by Stephen Trask

musical direction by Perry James

Hedwig … Adam T. Rosencrance
Yitzhak … Melissa Kaplan

The Angry Inch:

Drums … Perry James
Keys/Guitar … Jared Wilayto
Guitar … Justin Ballard
Bass … William Whitney
Sub-Drums … Bryan Bales

Turning to a more contemporary misfit --- Hedwig in the glam-rock musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH --- this East German transgendered rocker saddled with an “angry inch” has proven to be as open to interpretation as Hamlet; there have been tough-but-frail Hedwigs and frail-but-tough ones (even the occasional actress has taken a crack at him/her); my own introduction occurred with Gene Dante’s droll, battered-but-seductive Hedwig which he has twice brought to Boston. In Liberation! Films’ production, Alan T. Rosencrance offers a melancholic Hedwig with a mask of Garbo-esque beauty (when he switches to a shorter wig and a little black dress, the effect is perfectly Weill-ian). Between Mr. Rosencrance and Melissa Kaplan as his sullen sidekick Yitzhak, this HEDWIG truly rocks in the musical numbers; in Hedwig’s running monologue of his/her life, however, Mr. Rosencrance is wooden and perfunctory, leaving layers of tragicomic humanity untouched --- after all, there’s more to Hamlet than his soliloquies.

You may want to bring earplugs, for the current Angry Inch band is traditionally over-amplified.

"The Who’s Tommy" (9 September - 3 October)
STONEHAM THEATRE
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (9 September - 3 October)
LIBERATION! FILMS in collaboration with JAMSPOT, INC.
Durrell Hall in the Cambridge Family YMCA
820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (877) 238-5596

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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