Moonlight Stage Productions concludes its 33rd Summer Season with a sensational production of the legendary The Who’s Tommy, one sure to thrill both Baby Boomers (in their teens and twenties when Tommy began its life) and Generation Xers and Millennials, Tommy’s multiple 1960s hits (“Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” “See Me, Feel Me”) sounding hardly to have aged even a decade in the ensuing years.
The Who’s Tommy first debuted as a 1969 two-disk concept album by ‘60s rock band The Who. Composed mostly by Pete Townshend and featuring vocals by Roger Daltrey, Tommy was the first musical work to bear the name “rock opera.” Ken Russell’s 1975 film version starred Daltrey as Tommy and Ann-Margaret as his mother, and the stage version most revived at Moonlight debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1993.
Townshend and Des McAnuff’s book has 4-year old Tommy seeing his father, just returned from World War II imprisonment, shoot and kill Mrs. Walker’s lover, and as a result going “deaf, dumb, and blind” (though it is not until he turns ten that he first “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.
Helming Tommy at Moonlight is 2012-2013 Scenie winning Choreographer Of The Year John Vaughan, doing double duty this time as both director and choreographer and sensationally so, particularly as aided and abetted by a couldn’t-be-better team of triple-threats, musicians, and designers.
Told almost entirely in song, and dance, Tommy at Moonlight benefits enormously from Matthew Kniss’s videography and projections, which fill in the blanks of a virtually dialog-free book as we move from the Walkers’ Heathfield Gardens home in WWII London to a German POW camp to the hospital where Tommy is born to the amusement arcade where our hero discovers his pinball wizardry.
Narrating Tommy’s story (and becoming Tommy himself in Act Two) is New York-based up-and-comer Eddie Egan in the second of what will hopefully be many SoCal appearances. Not only do Egan’s leading man looks and physique make him the ideal Tommy, his power pipes make the pinball wizard’s highest notes soar high indeed in “Amazing Journey,” “Sensation,” and hit after Townshend-Daltry hit.
Jason W. Webb and Misty Cotton provide stellar support as Captain and Mrs. Walker, hitting their own firmament-reaching notes in “Do You Think It’s All Right?” “I Believe My Own Eyes,” and “Smash The Mirror.”
Supporting roles are brought to vivid life by an exceptional young cast.
As Cousin Kevin, Mark Bartlett (a former Scenie-winning Tommy himself) ends Act One with a thrilling “Pinball Wizard,” Hawker Tim Fitzsimons hits his own high notes in “Eyesight To The Blind,” and Benjamin Lopez gets his own soaring vocal showcase as the Specialist in “Go To The Mirror Boy” and as the Lover in “Twenty-One.” And speaking of vocal showcases, they don’t get any showier than The Gypsy’s “Acid Queen,” sung here by a seductive Anise Ritchie in a voice to rival that of movie counterpart Tina Turner.
Paul Morgavo is suitably creepy as Tommy’s pedophilic Uncle Ernie, though I can’t help wishing that book writers Townshend and McAnuff had left both character and his squirm-inducing “Fiddle About” on the cutting room floor. The always wonderful Chelsea Emma Franko is a pink-haired cutie as teenybopper Sally Simpson, with Josh Bradford and Liam James Brandt charmers themselves as Tommy ages 4 and 10.
Last but definitely not least, there is the phenomenal Tommy song-and-dance ensemble who scarcely leave the stage (except for a gazillion lickety-split costume changes), each one more talented and tireless than the next. Jebbel Arce, Jessica Christman, Hanz Enyeart, assistant to choreographer Deborah Fauerbach, Fitzsimons, Franko, Casey Garritano, Danielle Levas, Lopez, Matthew Malecki, Lindsay Martin, Marlene Montes, Jairus Pecson, and Christopher Valentine each deserve an all-caps WOW!
The Who’s Tommy looks smashing thanks to John Patrick’s imaginative scenic design and Beaver Bauer’s eye-catching costumes, black-on-white in Act One and rainbow-hued in Act Two and dazzlingly lit by Jean-Yves Tessier.
Tommy at Moonlight sounds as great as it looks thanks to musical director Dr. Terry O’Donnell, onstage orchestra Bruce Dorcy, Jeffrey Huard, Nathan Hubbard, Kevin Jones, Lyndon Pugeda, Zack Pyke, Michelle Sorger, and Ian Steed, and sound designer Christopher Luessmann, who mixes all of the above to perfection. Costumes are coordinated and executed by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone. Stanley D. Cohen in stage manager.
The Who’s Tommy ends Moonlight’s 33rd Summer Season (and its first with Steven Glaudini as its Artistic Director) on note as high as the highest Tommy himself hits in this “I’m A Sensation” of a production.
Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.
September 29, 2013
Photos: Ken Jacques Photography