Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 12, 2011

The Who’s Tommy

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
through July 16, 2011
by Dave Chivers

“The Who’s Tommy” opened with a solid performance by a very talented cast. But it leaves an audience wishing for a bit more gritty rock and roll.

The rock opera benefits greatly from a deep ensemble, simple but effective choreography, and a brilliant and artful use of the space venue. The set is simple but ingeniously conceived. A circular projection screen is used wisely to set up and augment the simple story line of the opera.

There is not a weak voice in the cast. All are strong, and the sometimes difficult melodies and lyrics are handled gracefully and with apparent ease by the singers in every role. The voices of the two leads, Randy Harrison (Tommy/Narrator) and Jenny Powers (Mrs. Walker) are especially good.

That simple story line is mainly a device to present the powerful music of the show. The strength of the show is in the music, and the music is professional and polished – often too polished, crying out for grit and guttural power. The music wants to be visceral, tense, teetering on the edge of maniacal. But despite the obvious skill of all the principal singers, most don’t go there. Angela Robinson (Acid Queen) is an example. She has a great voice, sings smoothly and strongly, but in her signature song she should seethe with pent up rage. It is the same with most of the principals.

The polish that limits the main roles conversely works marvelously for the ensemble. They are, as a group, strong, their numbers lively. The shining moment of choreography is the too brief sequence where the ensemble becomes the pinball machine Tommy is playing, complete with a cast member bouncing back and forth as the pinball.

The band reflects the overall production, accomplished and smooth, but wanting a little more pounding bass, edgy guitar soloing. All the elements are there for a powerful show if the actors lose themselves a little more in their roles, press it more to the edges and think less of the musicality itself, the show would take off. And it well may as the run goes on and they grow more confident in their parts.