Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Who's Tommy

Here's my latest review from the Post.

I hope I made it clear how much fun I had; it was just frustrating that the sound person had the vocal mics set where the band's volume should have been. They clipped and cut out constantly, whereas the band was way way to quiet. (They cut my point about just HOW LOUD the vocal mics were from the piece, but just trust me.)

At any rate, had a great time both at the show and in Dillon. That fucking lake-- I could live right there, in a tent on the shore.

At least until October or so.


It was the 1960s, after all.

For a small slice of just how ridiculous — or magical, depending on your perspective — that era was, try to imagine the pitch meeting for The Who's rock opera "Tommy" had it been written today:

"Well, there's this kid who sees something traumatic, right? And he goes catatonic as a result. Eventually, he recovers by smashing a mirror then becoming a world- class pinball player and quasi-savior."

Ooo-kay . . .

But as is known to anyone who appreciates the original album or even the ultra- weird film version (starring Ann-Margret, Elton John and Jack Nicholson — it was the 1970s, after all), there is an understanding that Pete Townshend and the Who, at the height of their powers, were not subject to the usual rules of storytelling.

Lake Dillon Theatre boldly brings the sprawling, reworked 1994 show, "The Who's 'Tommy,' " to its postage-stamp stage, seeming to embrace that lack of cohesion, taking the audience on a whirlwind trip through the looking glass.

The sense of events being completely out of deaf, dumb and blind Tommy's control is the show's real strength. Keeping us off-balance under the rapid-fire succession of scene changes and shifts in tone seems to be director Chris Alleman's goal here, and largely, he succeeds.

Some liberties have been taken in Act 1 with how the timelines of young Tommy (Alex Anderson) and older Tommy (Josh T. Smith) cross, and how they interact with each other, but it works. Somehow, both characters' experiences make more sense as viewed through the lenses of memory or premonition. It's a way to show that we are all, in a way, trapped in a younger version of ourselves.

And there are some fine performances here — Smith as adult Tommy is a riveting messiah, and his interactions with Anderson as his younger self are poignant.

As Mrs. Walker, Amy Jo Jackson brings a human warmth to a troubled woman. Michael Jayne Walker as Cousin Kevin delights in a joyful wickedness during his torment of Tommy, and Brett Michael Wilson as perverted Uncle Ernie is a greasy, twisted loon who would make Keith Moon proud.

Often lost in talking about the music of the Who, amid the detritus of Townshend's smashed guitars and Moon's jet-engine drumming, is that the band composed and performed astounding four-part harmonies. Lake Dillon's company does justice to that tradition.

That said, this is rock 'n' roll, damn it. Even with the understanding that it isn't the Who performing, the music must, by definition, rock. The offstage band was mostly capable, but almost everything it played seemed tentative in terms of volume, as well as tempo, as though it was afraid of overwhelming the singers. (Which would have been impossible: the vocal mics were almost universally too loud.)

The band needed to be louder. Much louder. The music of the Who — even the theatrical version of it — should be a freight train threatening to crush all in its path.

And that's tragic, because the show's potential was apparent in not only the individual performances but also in the cleverness of the scene changes, the swooping, vertiginous sensation of time and events taking over and pushing everyone into their next phase.

Still, for a fun retro-ride, the show is worth the drive to the mountains — there are many glimpses of beauty and power and rage and loss. It's just too bad its potential hasn't fully been reached.

"The Who's 'Tommy' " ** 1/2 (out of four stars)

The Lake Dillon Theatre Company, 146 Lake Dillon Drive. Directed by Chris Alleman. Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend. Saturday-Aug. 28. 1 hour, 45 minutes. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $15-$29. 970-513-9386 or


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