The cast of the Who’s Tommy. Photo: CenterStage.
The Who’s Tommy
Based on the Album by The Who
Music & Lyrics by Pete Townshend
Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Additional Music & Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Directed by John R. Leffert
Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Before the show even begins, as soon as you walk into the auditorium of CenterStage at the Jewish Community Center, you are already aware of how powerful the show is going to be. Karl Anderson’s set for CenterStage’s latest production, The Who’s Tommy, is an amazing sight to behold. Designed to look like a giant pinball machine, complete with a strikingly bright color scheme and LED light displays, it’s hard to believe this is Community Theater.
And as for the show itself, well, just prepare to be blown away.
Conceived as a concept album in 1969 by the legendary band The Who, Tommy has had a number of incarnations. After the original album, an orchestral album was released in 1972 with the London Symphony Orchestra backing The Who with celebrity guest vocalists, an experiment that first suggested the music might have life as a narrative presentation, beyond the confines of the original studio album. This led to a psychedelic film version directed by Ken Russell in his usual over-the-top style, and then various live concert versions through the years after that. All of these incarnations influenced composer Pete Townshend to pursue a proper stage adaptation, which finally opened on Broadway in 1993. And it’s that Broadway production that forms the basis for the show running at CenterStage through July 19.
The folks at CenterStage have simply outdone themselves with this production. Everything about it, from casting, to staging, to costumes – I really mean everything – is almost completely flawless. Kyle Braun is amazing in the title role, the boy driven to withdraw from the world into a state resembling severe autism after witnessing the killing of his mother’s lover by his father. It’s a particularly strong performance, considering he had only two weeks of rehearsal after taking over for another actor who had to drop the show for medical reasons. The character is singing almost constantly, as he narrates the show, and yet I only noticed Braun stumble on the lyrics once.
Josh Gilliam and Jessica Adamson are truly amazing as Tommy’s struggling parents, and they keep the characters sympathetic even during some ugly moments. Jason Cooper and Jordan Price also manage the seemingly impossible feat of turning Uncle Ernie (a pedophile) and Cousin Kevin (a bully) into characters you care about. And the always-amazing Tymika Prince will make you forget about Tina Turner (from the movie version) in her brief but show-stopping appearance as The Acid Queen.
The ensemble is quite amazing too, with some of the actors stepping forward for occasional larger roles and then fading back into the group with true skill. Josh O’Brien, Mandy Kramer, and Remy Sisk in particular had some very nice moments that stood out.
This really may be one of the best shows I’ve seen at CenterStage. Director John Leffert keeps the action moving constantly, and wisely does not try to imitate the staging of the Broadway show. He has made this production unique to this venue. The ensemble roles in particular seem to be always in motion, and it can be exhausting and yet thrilling to watch. I also have to give props to Angie Hopperton for her music direction; this is difficult music, and the cast performed with nary a flat note to be heard.
Doubling as costume designer, Leffert mostly succeeds here as well. All of the characters are period correct and colorful, with just the occasional unfortunate wig and costume combination (the friend who accompanied me to the show commented at one point that one character looked like the Mayor of Whoville!). But that really is nitpicking, because otherwise the show is just amazing.
If you are a fan of The Who, the album Tommy, or you just like your musicals to rock out, you can do worse that checking out CenterStage’s latest production. To paraphrase the score, it’s a sensation!
Featuring Jessica Adamson, Drew Ashley, Kyle Braun, Hunter Broyles, Jason Cooper, Jim Craig, Josh Gilliam, Alfred Jones Jr., Mandy Kramer, Brian Martin, Sam Maxwell, Lauren McCombs, Josh O’Brien, Maggie Patten, Jennifer Poliskie, Jordan Price, Tymika Prince, Remy Sisk, Corey Stephens, Sami Weathersby, and Amy Wheatley.
The Who’s Tommy
July 9-19, 2015
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
[box_light]Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo. [/box_light]