Review: ‘The Who’s Tommy’ at Kensington Arts Theatre

‘Tommy’ energizes, brings emotion

We’ve all felt misunderstood at times. Ostracized. Criticized. Left out of the community of our peers. But then hopefully things change; we find a hidden skill or talent that sets us apart from the rest and we excel—socially and professionally. Written by legendary rock musician Pete Townshend, Tommy, playing at Kensington Arts Theatre through May 28th, explores the social isolation and then messianic rise of blind, deaf and dumb Tommy Walker in post -World War II Great Britain. As conceived by Directors Ruben Vellekoop and Carlotta Capuano and performed by a superb cast, The Who’s Tommy is Rock ‘N’ Roll musicality at its finest.

The cast of Tommy. Photo courtesy of Kensington Arts Theatre.

The cast of ‘The Who’s Tommy.’ Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

Tommy Walker’s story played out under the harmonic Music Direction and Conductor skills of Marci Shegogue and featured many outstanding solos. The premise is this: Tommy Walker, while still a child, witnesses the murder of his mom’s lover by his dad (a presumed-dead veteran of the war), becomes a deaf, blind mute, then a pinball “wizard.”

The opera started off instrumentally with “Overture for Tommy,” “Prologue 1945” and “Captain Walker,” which detailed the backstory of Captain Walker (the fantastic Mark Hamberger), particularly his getting captured by the Nazis during the war. From there, this rock opera sported many unforgettable songs, starting with “It’s a Boy,” sung beautifully by Mrs. Walker (Katie Shaffer).

Mrs. Walker (Katie Shaffer) and Captain Walker ( Captain Walker (Mark Hamberger). Photo courtesy of Kensington Arts Theatre.

Mrs. Walker (Katie Shaffer) and Captain Walker (Mark Hamberger). Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

Then, the leads and ensemble sang “Christmas,” wondering about Tommy, “Can You Hear Me?” and “How Can He Be Saved?” Later, Brian Lyons-Burke was effectively creepy as evil Uncle Ernie, who had inappropriate designs on young Tommy, singing “Fiddle About.”

Jordan Clifford effectively evoked the streetwise, somewhat sadistic Cousin Kevin, who tortured Tommy with taunts in “Cousin Kevin.” Ellie Borzilleri and Dana Michelle Herson lent their lustrous voices to the hard-driving “Sensation,” which chronicled Tommy’s superior ability to feel vibrations, and thus his pinball-playing acumen.

“Acid Queen” sang in fabulous drag by Lyons-Burke’s gypsy character, was one of the show’s best musical treats. The house-hold-known “Pinball Wizard” and “Miracle Cure” followed, with Borzilleri’s commanding vocals supporting a solo in the former. The ensemble’s handling of “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” was nothing short of breathtaking.

I enjoyed the perfectly synchronized duet between Mrs. Walker (Shaffer) and Captain Walker (Hamberger), “I Believe My Own Eyes.” Later, the ensemble brought pure power and might to “Extra, Extra, Extra,” and “Sensation.”  The frenetic, angry “Smash the Mirror,” as sung by Shaffer was unforgettable.

Brice Guerriere’s rendition of “I’m Free” was sublime in its emotional intensity—the heart of the show. Nearly as heart-tugging was his rendition of “See Me, Feel Me.” Guerriere brought earnestness to “Welcome” (Come to this house).  The entire cast raised the show to an emotional crescendo with “We’re not going to take it”.

Elissa Borzilleri (Ellie’s real-life Mom) brought Tommy’s psychologist to life, without scripted words, and Richard Shegogue effectively played his roles as Specialist, and Minister and as part of the ensemble. Colleen Prior brought earnestness to her Nurse character.

Tommy 2 ( Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

Brice Guerriere (Tommy 2). Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

Special Effects\Multimedia Designer Jeff Clausen projected story-supporting film clips and background pictures on the upstage screen, setting the appropriate tone throughout. Jenny Male’s fight choreography for Captain Walker and Lover (George Spelvin) looked bone-shattering. Ashley Thweatt’s nurse costumes, which included white, facial masks telegraphed the isolation Tommy must have felt. The Cast and crew expertly brought verve to this classic rock opera.

Kensington Arts Theatre’s The Who’s Tommy is an energetic shoulder-swaying good time.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Tommy banner

The Who’s Tommy plays through May 28, 2016 at Kensington Arts Theatre performing at Kensington Town Center – 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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