Reviews

The Who’s Tommy ****

By: Isa Goldberg

April 8, 2024: After a youth spent listening obsessively to The Who’s Tommy, this staged revival on Broadway feels like a burst of validation, just the kind of validation that makes Tommy, Tommy (Ali Louis Bourzgui). 

In this revival of the 1993 Broadway premiere, the staging is the primary mover and shaker. Video projections of battles, commonly so predictable, slice the edge of consciousness anew. Visual motion, like the music and sound effects, is especially aggressive – rock ‘n roll style. Morphing virtual reality – air strikes, parades – with the on stage reality, the visual action opens onto a wall of live police officers.

By: Isa Goldberg

April 8, 2024: After a youth spent listening obsessively to The Who’s Tommy, this staged revival on Broadway feels like a burst of validation, just the kind of validation that makes Tommy, Tommy (Ali Louis Bourzgui). 

In this revival of the 1993 Broadway premiere, the staging is the primary mover and shaker. Video projections of battles, commonly so predictable, slice the edge of consciousness anew. Visual motion, like the music and sound effects, is especially aggressive – rock ‘n roll style. Morphing virtual reality – air strikes, parades – with the on stage reality, the visual action opens onto a wall of live police officers.

But it appears that the backgrounds, environments, walls even, are created from matrixes of light. Space is defined by these razor focused beams. Swiftly moving hi tech visuals (Peter Nigrini) land near every day set pieces. Visual motion is as intense as the sound design is loud (Gareth Owen.) 

Alison Luff (Mrs.Walker), Olive Ross -Kline (Tommy, Age 4), and Adam Jacobs
(CaptaIn Walker)
.

It’s a complex marriage of scenic design (David Korns), projections (Peter Ngrini) and lighting (Amanda Zieve). And it certainly is a spectacle. 

But, these images of war that we see early on in the show, are pictures the post war generation grew up with, even though it was no longer supposed to be a part of their culture. Accompanied by the projections of dates 1940 onward, the narrative has a documentary frame.

The Cast of The Who’s Tommy.

An early rock opera, The Who’s 1969 album, paints the emotional upheaval that faced a generation of baby boomers. As helmed by Des McAnuff, the focus is generational and universal in defining youthful rebellion, the search for identity, the condemnation of family values because those express entrenchment. 

The details to the plot, however difficult to follow, involve a returning war hero who murders his wife’s lover, all of which Tommy sees. Logically his fall, rise, and prodigal return follow from this single tragic event. More importantly, the musical commiserates with youthful perceptions of adult behaviors, motives, opinions. Those Lurking images of a war, not their own, more resonates here, than Tommy’s alleged observations.

John Ambrosino (Uncle Ernie).

Having adapted the book with Composer Pete Townshend, from his original album, McAnuff side tracks some of the original plot, to affect this classic coming of age tale, very familiar to older Broadway audiences. To that end, it will be interesting to see if this revival on Broadway is also embraced by kids today.

The show’santhem (it has a few), Listening to you, I get the music is not only rousing, it’s also informing. “Gazing at you, I get the heat/Following you, I climb the mountain, expresses the need to have a hero. But Tommy, the celebrity, sacrifices himself to his fans, before he can return to being himself.

The Who’s classic rock ‘n roll songs are a lot of fun to watch. Christina Sajous’ as Gypsy, the Acid Queen is one powerful vamp, wicked and fantastical. Beyond the cacophony, Alison Luff is lovely in voice. And John Ambrosino’s Uncle Ernie makes a believable target for a black eye.

Christina Sajous (Acid Queen).

At the center of it, Bourzgui’s Tommy is exceptional – boundless rock star energy, unusual leading man looks, quirky sense of self, natural charisma, relatability.

Explosive use of projections, like in a music video, certainly jives with the ramped up electronic sound. It is cacophonous, and for boomers, a rock concert, you can still need to see. 

The Who’s Tommy ****
Nederlander Theatre
208 W. 41st Street, NYC
Open run
Photography: Mathew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman