note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone
The current show at Turtle Lane Theatre is The Who's rock opera "Tommy" with music and lyrics by Peter Townshend and book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff. Originally written as a 1975 movie, it was adapted as a stage show in the early 1990's and ran on Broadway for almost 900 performances. The story is about Tommy who as a 4 year old child witnesses his father kill his mother's lover in self defense. As he stared at the mirror while this happened, he became deaf, dumb and blind. His parents search for a cure for many years and Tommy finds the one thing he is good at is pinball. When his upset mother finally smashes the mirror, Tommy recovers. Now famous for both his pinball skills and being cured, Tommy gets caught up in his fame but when he comes back, his fans turn on him. However instead of going back to what he was before, Tommy turns to his family. The show is beautifully executed from set to lights to costumes with topnotch direction, musical direction and choreography, this high energy show captures the audience in its spell.
Director Steve Black casts terrific performers in these roles. He brings out the best in them and moves them around the set with ease. Steve uses rear projection to set the scene, the year and the place. He also uses a video cam so you can see the Tommy alter egos in the mirror as well as when the mother breaks it. I last reviewed Steve as the musical director of "Man of La Mancha'' a couple of years ago at Turtle Lane. Musical director Thomas Young delivers the goods not only conducting and playing the guitar but doing a splendid job with his orchestra and vocalists, too. The harmonies and vocal prowess of this cast is superb whether doing solo or ensemble numbers. The orchestra is on the second story of the set. Choreographer Julie Silverman keeps the cast in perpetual motion whether they are doing a 1940's style dance or the pinball jazz dance segment. She always gives her dancers the best moves so the audience can savor the visual effects of her choreography. The over 100 costumes are by Richard Itczak who always does a spectacular job on the numerous shows he works on. The lighting and projection design by Saulius Slezas is terrific as is the sound design by Alex Savitzky. Stage manager Harry Rothman keeps the show flowing from start to finish with the rapid set changes.
There are 3 performers playing the role of Tommy from 1945 to 1963. All of them are dressed in white to show Tommy's innocence while he is being physically and mentally abused by the cruel and cold world. The first act of the show lets you see what is going on with Tommy while the second act gives the audience time to more fully understand it. Amelia Newstadt and Cameron Levesque alternate as Tommy when he is 4 years old, witnesses the murder and becomes catatonic. Amelia handles this challenging role like a true pro and makes the most of her stage time. Her catatonic state is topnotch The second Tommy is played Nicholas Cook and Spencer Evett who alernate as Tommy age 10. They remain in a catatonic state for almost the whole first act. The character is diddled with by his Uncle Ernie. tormented and thrown in a garbage can by his cousin Kevin and his friends as well as being poked and prodded by numerous doctors and nurses. Nicholas doesn't flinch while this is happening, remaining in character throughout, giving a nice portrayal while doing so. The 18 year old Tommy is played excellently by Brendan Colcord in his first leading role. He portrays this tortured creature, infusing him with an energy and a pathos that captures your heart. His brilliant portrayal makes you empathize with his plight. Brendan sings as the narrator/Tommy looking back at his tragic life in "Amazing Journey" and in "See Me, Feel Me". His voice soars in those numbers and in "Sensation" when he plays pinball for the first time, in "I'm Free" where he finally speaks after 14 years and in one of his prettiest ballad in the show is called "Welcome" where he invites his fans to his home after his miraculous cure. When the fans reject Tommy, he finally realizes that his family is important to him and not the fake adoration of his fans. Brendan has grown into an amazing performer who gets better in each show that he does. The final tableau of the 3 Tommys is a tearjerker and all the performers deserve a round of applause for their tackling a very difficult role and doing a splendid job with it.
All the supporting performers do marvelous work in their roles. Melissa Gates and Aidan Nevin play Tommy's mother and father. They both show off their fantastic voices in their numbers including "What About the Boy'' and "I Believe My Own Eyes", an emotional and poignant ballad that brings tears to your eyes. David Gerrie plays the villainous, Uncle Ernie who molests Tommy in the song "Fiddle About" with the innuendo there because what might have been acceptable in the 1970's movie is taboo in 2012. The character is done tongue in cheek as a drunken buffoon. David has a lighter song and dance in Act 2 called "Tommy's Holiday Camp'' where he tries to sell passes to see Tommy after his cure.Tim McShea is the high energy, Cousin Kevin who mocks Tommy as a youth and later on help him find fame as a "Pinball Wizard" in this song with the ensemble. Tim uses his terrific tenor voice in this number as does Jared Walsh and Aaron Ray. Tim also leads the male chorus in "Tommy Can You Hear Me?", with fantastic harmony in it. The sexy and slutty gypsy who Captain Walker brings Tommy hoping she can sure him, is played with great sensuality by Kendra Alati. She is a sexy brunette with a fabulous voice, doing a topnotch job as "Acid Queen". Fortunately Captain Walker comes to his senses and removes 10 year old Tommy from her clutches. The many choral and dance numbers are splendid, too. Kudos to everyone who made this a show to be very proud of. So for a fantastic rendition of "Tommy" be sure to catch this show at Turtle Lane Playhouse. Tell them Tony sent you.