San Diego, CA—The last time San Diego audiences saw The Who’s Tommy performed locally was in 1992 when Pete Townshend (of the Who from 1962-1982) and Des McAnuff (former artistic director or the La Jolla Playhouse) staged its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse. The musical soon moved to Broadway in 1993 where McAnuff directed it again and went on to win the coveted Tony and Oliver Awards for best direction. Back then I can’t tell you how many of my friends complained to me (?) that it was too loud! It’s a rock musical and if they found it loud then, wait until they hit the San Diego Repertory Theatre and see it again.
This time with Tommy, however, the Rep’s artistic director Sam Woodhouse is renewing his partnership with The San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (remember Hair Spray last year?) who make up the greater part of the ensemble including the chorus of singers and dancers. These energetic, young musical theatre folks including a 19-piece band made up of musicians from the school who rock the house is under the direction of Tamara Page. Adding to this burst of energy, B. Slade, who won the San Diego Theatre Critics Craig Noel Award in 2008 for Outstanding Performance in Dreamgirls heads the list as Tommy as an adult.
Briefly, the story is about four year old Tommy Walker (Ethan Estrada and Jayden Genece) who is traumatized when his World War II pilot father, Captain Walker (Zachary Harrison), who was presumed dead, shows up one day at his home in London only to find Tommy’s mother (Carey Rebecca Brown) and her new lover in an embrace. In a fit of jealous rage the captain takes out his service revolver and shoots and kills her new lover.
Both mother and father turn Tommy to the mirror in their apartment to prevent him from seeing the altercation but instead he sees it all in the reflection. Realizing this they shake him and tell him that he didn’t see anything or hear anything. As a result, Tommy grows up deaf, dumb and blind. Over the years, (1941-1963) as Tommy grows into his teen years and young adult life he is further traumatized by his relatives particularly cousin Kevin (Louis Pardo) and ‘Uncle Ernie’ (an effective Victor Hernandez). Efforts to ‘cure Tommy’ go on for years using both traditional and alternative forms of treatment, both shock and potentially street drugs, to no avail.
When Tommy’s cousin Kevin, who watches over him, takes him to a youth club that has as its main entertainment for the boys and girls, pinball machines, Tommy is brilliant at them and talk of his being a wizard circulate. Soon his claim to fame takes him to becoming the “Pinball Wizard”.
Technically the show is a dazzling spectacle complete with Mike Buckley’s sliding metal frame doors, ladders, screens, scrims (Victoria Petrovich, projections) and furniture as they are moved in and out, in and among the actors all under the spot on lighting design of Trevor Norton and dressed in period attire designed by Jennifer Braun Gittings. Tommy is dressed all in white!
Adding to the classic look is Steve Gunderson’s musical direction complementing Javier Velasco’s choreography while not overlooking Tom Jones sound design. The nineteen-piece orchestra with highlights, just before intermission and before the final curtain, four SCPA guitar-playing devotees consisting of Joshua Vasquez, Kalani Mojica-Doneza, Michael Angeles and Martin Martiarena, pay tribute to The Who for about ten to fifteen minutes of non stop rockin’ out. You GO Guys!
Talent runs deep with S. Slade in the principal role as Tommy. As mentioned earlier, his energy is electrifying and contagious. When he finally belts out “See Me, Feel Me” and “I’m Free” the audience can barely contain itself. The same can be said about Anise Richie’s “Acid Queen” who as the Gypsy tries to lure Tommy into her bedroom to cure his trauma. Young Davina Van Dusen, whose voice is incredible, is perfect as the comatose ten-year-old Tommy and when Louis Pardo’s Kevin along with SCPA student Dylan Hoffinger and ensemble break out into “Pinball Wizard” the house comes down.
It’s an exciting and thrilling evening definitely worth a trip to downtown to see, hear and feel director Sam Woodlouses Tommy.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 14th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Rock Opera
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $37.00-$57.00
Venue: Lyceum Theatre