Pinball wizards and theatergoers alike can rest assured -- the kids are all right.
As far as rock concept albums go, few raised the bar higher than the Who's 1969 opus “Tommy,” and the stage adaptation currently being performed by TheatreVCU is a rocking delight.
The show's title character (Cooper Timberline) is the victim of a tragedy early in life, leaving him “deaf, dumb and blind.” Throughout the first act, Tommy's parents (Nicholas Aliff and Caylyn Temple) desperately seek to remedy his condition, while other family members view his state as an excuse to abuse him both mentally and physically.
For all of his misfortunes, Tommy ends up excelling at pinball. The boy eventually overcomes his condition, and as a result of both his pinball wizardry and conquering his maladies, Tommy becomes a celebrity.
Temple does an excellent job portraying Mrs. Walker, and she has a voice to match. Considering most of his role is maintaining a blank stare while the rest of the cast manhandles him, Timberline plays a great Tommy.
Eric Stallings struggles with his role as the older Tommy, though the singing part is considerably difficult: Most male singers don't consider a vocal range of roughly 2.5 octaves as a cakewalk.
Daniel Cimo stands out in his role as the evil Cousin Kevin, and Jeremy William Hilgert pulls off the feat of being both despicable and likeable as the pedophilic Uncle Ernie. The ensemble is a talented group of young actors who give the show the extra firepower it needs.
The five local musicians who play the score are incredible. Even more astounding is the fact that the group flies blind without a conductor, who usually slows down, speeds up or repeats a few measures as the actors and technical crew need them.
Bethany Lynn Emery's choreography can be a bit redundant at times, especially during the number “Sensation.” Exactly how much shimmying and shaking can you do around a pinball machine? But, technically, the show is spectacular. With 16 small televisions and one large screen incorporated into the set design, they could have easily served as a distraction, but instead it gives the play a continuous sense of movement. They work best when displaying montages instead of live feeds of the performance.
The lightning-fast set changes undertaken by the ensemble are the kinds that give stage managers gray hair. The sound crew has the nightmare of trying to balance a live band, sound effects and more than a dozen wireless microphones, and except for a few minor problems with the layering of the sound, do a superb job. The only true problem was the technically unimpressive shattering of Tommy's mirror in the second act.
Compared to the juggernaut speed of the first act, the second act slows down, and fails to have the same number of bells and whistles. Tommy never seems to contemplate why fame has separated him from his family, or how celebrity has entrapped him just like his mental condition once did. Instead, the deaf, dumb and blind kid just welcomes his family members, both good and bad, with open arms.
Quibbles aside, the show is still wonderfully entertaining, and manages to serve up one heck of a mean pinball.
“The Who's Tommy,” directed by Barry Bell, plays April 22-24 at 7:30 p.m. and April 25 at 3 p.m. in the W.E. Singleton Performing Arts Center, 922 Park Ave. Tickets are $25 general admission; $20 for seniors, university faculty and staff; $10 for VCU students with valid IDs. For information call 828-6026.