“The Who’s Tommy” Dazzles All The Senses At UCONN’s CRT
By Tony Schillaci and Don Church
The UCONN Department of Dramatic Arts has once again triumphed by re-defining a rock-opera from the ‘60s into a stunning piece of contemporary and refreshing musical theater.
Brilliant rapid-fire action, innovative special effects, and gorgeously sung music tell the story of Tommy, a child who becomes traumatized after witnessing an act of violence, rendering him deaf, mute, and blind. His route to adult stardom is preceded by a childhood of sexual and physical abuse, followed by public idolization and then to discovery of his personal freedom and forgiveness for his tormentors.
Jon Conver*, in the title role of “Tommy,” the “pinball wizard,” fills the stage with his
talent and star-presence. He’s perfection visually and vocally as the rock star who receives the adulation of the masses. His heart-rending “See Me, Feel Me” and the joyous “I’m Free” are alone worth the price of admission.
Laura Beth Wells* as Tommy’s mother, Mrs. Walker, clearly won absolute sympathy
from the audience with her superb acting and singing talent as she interprets angst and anger during “Do You Think It’s Alright?” and “Smash The Mirror.”
Second-year graduate, actor Brian Patrick Williams, commands his place as Tommy’s concerned father when he sings “There’s A Doctor I’ve Found”, and his repeated question to his damaged son - “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?”
Siblings J.J. and Aemi Mullin play Tommy at four and ten-years old. Their clear angelic voices underscore the innocence lost by the fragile impressionable Tommy. They are a joy to watch in their controlled performances of minimal movement and expression. Tommy’s shock and sadness is deeply felt in all their scenes.
CRT’s advanced student artists sing, dance and act with those ingredients of buoyant physical energy and bountiful enthusiasm that is the hallmark of great rock concerts. From the Overture, during which the story is told in rapid visual and musical snapshots, to the rousing and inspirational “Listening To You” finale, these future Broadway, West End and regional theater stars shine brightly without ever breaking character.
Choreographer Matthew Neff keeps the movement of the actors true to the music, and gives a fresh youthfulness to the dance idioms of the 60’s. On the smallish stage, it’s no easy feat to keep thirty actors graceful and fluid while avoiding collision, but Matthew even tosses in acrobatics with abandon.
The unseen, yet definitely heard, band, led by musical director Ken Clark, interprets Pete Townshend’s music with stunning guitar riffs, fluid-horn melodies, and a cohesive truth for the interpretation of the original music. It often wordlessly reveals character and drives the story.
Costume designer Arthur Oliver and his creative staff skillfully interprets the mode of dress, which spans the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and also captures the theatricality of fabric – from the white purity of Tommy’s costumes to the sparkle, glitter, and layered insanity of the outfits worn by the Hawker, Harmonica Player, Harlots, Thugs and the Gypsy Acid Queen. All that cotton, plastic and polyester makes an invaluable contribution to the production.
The combined talents of Projection Designer David O Smith, Lighting Designer Mark Novick, and Puppet Designer Michael Truman Cavanaugh* fuse spot on with a continuing kaleidoscope of multimedia effects. Those enhance the minimalism of scenery, which Scenic Designer Cassandra Ireland Beaver suggests with a series of portable doorways, mirrors, and furnishings, deftly moved about the stage by actor/stagehands that are meant to be seen. An erector-set metal framework-staircase glides on and off whenever visual structure is necessary to drive the action.
Director Gabriel Barre, who also helmed last year’s “Hair” at CRT, keeps “Tommy” moving along at eye-blinking speed. There are no stage waits, no pauses and, in some cases, not even room for applause, which the cast certainly deserves.
In the end, we wondered where the two-hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission, had gone. A treat for the eyes, a melodic and tuneful rockfest for the ears, “Tommy” is one of those shows that’s rare breed- a rock opera with a soul.
As interpreted by CRT this show has got to be seen and savored. With only a few performances left, on April 28, 29, 30 and May 1st, it would be unfortunate to miss out on seeing this dazzle of a rock concert. “The Who’s Tommy” cries out to be seen, felt, and touched.
It’s at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater on UCONN’s Storrs Campus. For tickets and information, call 860-486-4226 or visit www.jorgensen.uconn.edu.
* Appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association
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Published by the Willimantic Chronicle April 29, 2010