Theater Review: Rock opera Tommy takes stage

Tony Vezner’s decision to mount Tommy, the rock opera written and performed by Peter Townsend of The Who, gives my generation the opportunity to experience the music and culture of our kids.

The music is loud, but not overwhelming, and New American Theater presents it well.

The story of an English couple marrying during World War II and having a child, who today would be labeled autistic, is one that we can understand.

Tommy is born while his father serves in the army, and until he is 4, his mother (Jennifer Buhrow) assumes her husband has died. His unexpected return creates a trauma, and Tommy withdraws from the world.

Olivia and Ben Vezner play the stunned child. Max Moore is Tommy at 10. Further abuse and the unrelenting medical community reinforce his isolation.

Many of the musical numbers detail the thoughts and feelings of this child, and he emerges as an adult freed from his silent world by the ingenious “Pinball Machine.”

When he is celebrated as a wizard, we hear the familiar (even to me) “Pinball Wizard” performed by Cousin Kevin (Walter Blezchad) and his cronies.

Center stage Tommy (Manley Pope) sings “I’m Free,” but freedom and celebrity bring the world to his feet. Opening his home and his heart, he finds those who adore him want only his fame, not his humanity, and they scream their displeasure in “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” a familiar line used later in another venue.

The staging of rock concerts involves lights, film clips, glittering metallic sets and, in this production, a mirror that reflects Tommy at every age.

Lee Brasuell has done the scenic design; Genny Bonavia, costumes; Eric Stehl, lighting design; and Tom Stotz, projection graphics design. Jill Beardsley and Joe Savino choreograph. Musical Director Charles Matlock and his excellent band play Townsend’s score with great authenticity.

Several years ago, Rent played at the Shubert. Our seats were near the front, and the amps intimidated, but the sensitivity of the story seemed to diminish the volume…so it is with Tommy.

The show runs through May 21. For tickets, call the NAT box office at 964-6282.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

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