DOMA Theatre Company opens its ambitious 2012 season, one which also includes Songs For A New World, Jekyll & Hyde, Xanadu, and Once On This Island, with a terrifically sung production of The Who’s Tommy, snappily directed by Hallie Baran.

For post-Boomers, here’s a bit of Tommy background.

The Who’s Tommy began its life as a 1969 two-disk concept album by The Who, which spawned several Top 40 hits including “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” and “See Me, Feel Me.” Composed mostly by Pete Townshend and featuring vocals by Roger Daltrey, Tommy was the first musical work to bear the now oft-used (and abused) name “rock opera.” Ken Russell’s 1975 film version starred Daltrey as Tommy and Ann-Margaret as his mother, and the stage version being revived here debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1993.

In Townshend and Des McAnuff’s book, 4-year old Tommy sees his father, just returned from World War II imprisonment, shoot and kill Mrs. Walker’s lover, and goes “deaf, dumb, and blind” (though it is not until he turns 10 that he “sure plays a mean pinball.”) Tommy (The Rock Opera) follows Tommy’s journey through life, his celebrity as a “Pinball Wizard,” the eventual recovery of his sight, and his ultimate embracing of a normal family life.

Narrating Tommy’s story (and becoming Tommy himself in Act Two) is Jess Ford, a charismatic newcomer to the L.A. theater scene blessed with precisely the power pipes—and sex appeal—needed to follow in Daltrey’s footsteps.

The adult characters are brought to life by Anna Ty Bergman (another splendid L.A. newcomer as Mrs. Walker), Geoffrey Going (equally impressive as Captain Walker), and Karl Maschek (deliciously creepy as pervy Uncle Ernie, whose pedophilic “Fiddle About” is alternately hilarious and squirm-inducing).

The role of Cousin Kevin has been divided between two fine performers, teenage Adam Krist and Matt O’Neill, with Krist showing off his developing rock star rasp in “Cousin Kevin,” though it’s power-voiced Chris Kerrigan who gets to sing “Pinball Wizard,” a song usually performed by Kevin.

Though the program fails to identify which performers sing the production’s three dozen musical numbers, no one can possibly not recognize the dynamic Stephanie Hayslip, who plays both Tommy’s mother and Gypsy, singing the hell out of “Acid Queen.” Lovely Samantha Mills also makes a strong impression too as Tommy groupie Sally Simpson.

Most productions cast two different-aged boys as “Young Tommy” and “Second Tommy.” Here, Donovan Blaise plays the tyke throughout his childhood, and does so with a poignant sweetness, though perhaps a pair of flesh-colored earplugs could be found to replace the distracting orange ones he quite sensibly uses to protect his developing hearing, but make us wonder if removing them might solve Tommy’s post-traumatic deafness.

Completing the vocally strong ensemble under Chris Raymond’s topnotch musical direction are Timothy Hearl, Megan McDermott, Lisa Margaroli, dance captain Steven W. Nielsen, Brittany Rodin, Nick Roybal, Bradley Sattler, and Tiffany Williams as assorted lasses, local lads, and various supporting cameos.

Angela Todaro choreographs numerous lively production numbers to suit the cast’s varied dance skills, with some exciting acrobatic work to spice up the mix.

Musical director Raymond conducts the production’s sensational onstage band, which features Raymond on piano, Yuichiro “Kevin” Asami on guitar, Angilla Piazza on drums, and Antonio Rodrigo on bass, with sound designer Joseph Montiel keeping the volume just loud enough, though the Met Theatre’s sound system once again makes high notes and multi-part harmonies sound tinny and lyrics occasionally hard to decipher.

Brandy Jacobs’ scenic design is as blackbox basic as it gets, though she deserves high marks for the cast’s many non-era-specific costumes. Cullen Pinney’s lighting design is appropriately flashy given the Met Theatre’s limitations.

Jason Henderson is technical director, Danielle DeMasters and Stacey Cortez stage managers, Ford fight/stunt coordinator, Michaela DeMasters special projects artist, Amada Lawson scenic artist, Roxanne Schreiber hair and makeup artist, and Paul LaMarche specialty hair and makeup artist. For DOMA Theatre Company, Marco Gomez is executive producer, Dolf Ramos producer, JC Chavez controller, and Michael Abramson director of operations.

Given that the 20somethings who first rocked out to The Who’s Tommy are now (like Townsend and Daltrey) in their mid sixties, there’s hardly a theatergoer too old for Tommy, and with its classic yet still resonant rock score, it’s a show that’s right for anyone ready to “Cum On Feel the Noize.” As for those who’ve only heard the original rock album or seen its film adaptation, DOMA Theatre Company’s revival offers the chance to see and hear The Who’s Tommy with fresh new eyes and ears. Thanks to its terrific cast and band, The Who’s Tommy starts DOMA’s 2012 season with a bang.

DOMA Theatre Co. @ The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 25, 2012
Photos: Michael Lamont

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