Tommy - Adelaide Festival
Written by LDS, Feb 2015

Tommy, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide (26 Feb-1 Mar)

I suppose it was never obvious quite how the story of Tommy would translate to theatre and I certainly didn’t know what to expect, though with 50 years since The Who first took to stage and with the blessing of Pete Townshend it was one show that couldn’t be missed.

The Who - Tommy
The Who – Tommy

For artistic director Eric Mingus this re-working of the story of Tommy was personal and the audience soon came to realise that this was a serious reinterpretation of the story of the deaf dumb and blind boy we are all familiar with. From the opening scene Eric Mingus appears with a bass guitar and plays a broken down poetic jazz version of ‘My Generation’ and quite solemnly expresses for loss his father, legendary jazz musician Charles Mingus at the age of just 14.

Eric’s boyhood spirit is embodied in his character of Tommy mirroring the muted and paralysing world to which he entered following this event. He explains that he could no longer tolerate the familiar but associating sounds of jazz, letting go of everything he knew and taking his own boyhood journey of discovery and healing through the raw energy of The Who.

Elana Stone and Eric Mingus
Elana Stone and Eric Mingus

Visually the performance was lacking with minimal production value which spelt budget. The single backdrop was confusing, a stone wall that would have better suited a Ancient Roman storyline with an archway which beamed the face of Tommy as though a reflection from a mirror. The stage had little room for any acting as such as it was full with a band of 14 musicians who would usually be placed elsewhere. The acting that did occur was minimal and average in impact with the exception of Irish vocalist Gavin Friday whose impression of the perverse Uncle Ernie left quite an impression.

Yael Stone - Tommy
Yael Stone – Tommy

Taking nothing from the technical ability of the band, the musical production was lacking in punch and so broken that the show often lost it’s flow. Moments of real genius shone from the brass and string sections with particular note given to the bursting sax solos from Catherine Sikora and pattering percussion though even the drummer Sim Cain was being held back from really unleashing the expected power of Keith Moon. Unfortunately the vocal casting was mixed with some strengths coming through from Tommy played by ‘Orange is the New Black’s Yael Stone, piano accordionist Elana Stone and guitarist/Cousin Kevin Harper Simon to real weaknesses from that of father Robert Forster (formerly of the Go-Betweens) which killed off any spark that the show could have had. Sadly for any Who fans in the audience the most popular songs from this Rock Opera were also disappointingly diluted to nothing more than beat-poetry to which the applause began to die off.

As a concept it’s great as we all hear and feel music in different ways though this was perhaps over-personalised in my view leaving little of the original story to shine through and as a result there was a wide feeling of mis-sale.