Sunday, June 16, 2024

Broadway, Can You Hear Me? The Who’s “Tommy” Returns Vibrant as Ever After 30 Years


I would guess a lot of people my age are suckers for The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy.” We loved it in 1969 as a double album, the 1974 movie, and in 1992 on Broadway with Michael Cerveris’s electric performance.

“Tommy” is back on Broadway, opening tonight. It’s sensational even if the timeline of the story is screwy. Who cares? Tommy Walker is traumatized into catatonia after he sees his father shoot his mother’s lover during a post WW1 squabble. He’s lost in a mirror world. How will he break loose?

The story begins in 1921, then jumps to 1942, and on to the 1970s. Pay no mind. Tommy is a bit of a time traveler, on his way to regaining his mind and becoming a pop star-slash-cult leader.

He’s also a Pinball Wizard, which is what makes him famous. Along the way, his father pimps him out to the Acid Queen, his uncle abuses him sexually, and his cousin tortures him. But all of it is in the best way.

The main thing is that Pete Townshend’s music and lyrics have never sounded better. The orchestra is sensational. Ali Louis Bourzgui is a charismatic adult Tommy with a booming supple voice. Christina Sajous stands out as Tina Turner doing the Acid Queen. Bobby Conte is a compelling Cousin Kevin. The whole cast, the production, is updated from 1992 with a shot of life.

Indeed, the sets pop, the choreography is tight, and “Tommy” brims with fun. Maybe it’s a little nostalgic for classic rock fans. But I’ll take this over a lot of musicals with unhummable songs and flat scores. It’s really a tribute to Townshend, who set the bar high for rock after hearing “Sgt Pepper” and its consequent releases by other groups in the late 60s.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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