A win for “The Who’s Tommy”
“88 minutes of non-stop rock and roll,” director Barry Bell calls it.
There’s really no other way to describe the musical “The Who’s Tommy,” which is widely considered the world’s first rock opera and is now showing at the W.E. Singleton Center. Presented by Theatre VCU, “Tommy” represents an interesting challenge for a drama department: make an exciting production, one that is a hybrid between musical and opera.
The Who are one of those bands that have a seemingly timeless appeal. They are able to be revived instantly. The colorful production of their own music, and their recent return — from CSI intros to Super Bowl halftime shows — confirms the sheer enjoyment contemporary audiences get out of the band.
With the use of innovative lighting, media technologies (screens, monitors, stereos), and a keen eye for perspective, “The Who’s Tommy” gives homage to the original without attempting to mimic it ounce for ounce. Instead, the audience is treated to a kaleidoscope of medleys; Bell never allows the music to stray too far from the elaborate production design, which has an appropriate enough psychedelic feel to match the music.
So what about the music? It’s largely fantastic, with few notes and chords being strained or missed, and a kind of playful faithfulness that allows listeners to not feel overwhelmed. Various musicians and a variety of singers lend the production the convivial feel of the original.
So, yes, overall a wild success. With few low points and a brisk running time (88 minutes), I recommend this musical — erm, rock opera — to anybody who thinks we shouldn’t start discarding rock’s historic predecessors just yet.