Sunday, June 07, 2009

See It, Hear It

Theatre Review
The Who's Tommy
Circle Theatre
Forest Park, IL

Before getting home to watch the Tony Awards, which I'll broach upon in a moment, today I saw a wonderful production of The Who's Tommy, the stage version of Pete Townshend's masterful rock opera, which was originally produced on Broadway in 1993 and subsequently nominated for Best Musical. As I was watching it, it dawned on me that in addition to its monumental impact on rock 'n roll, Tommy has had a huge impact on Broadway and musical theater, more than one might imagine.

Although "Hair," which won the Tony tonight for best revival, brought rock music to Broadway way back in 1968, it's hard to overstate Tommy's impact on what Broadway could be, who could create its musicals and who would attend them. Think about it. Tommy came to Broadway--and was a solid hit--before Rent, before Elton John started writing musical scores and before Mamma Mia & all the songbook musicals that followed. I don't think rock and pop music--including that showcased in Billy Elliot (the big Tony winner) and Rock of Ages, a musical featuring '80s rock--would be as ubiquitous on Broadway if it weren't for The Who's Tommy.

And it was a sheer pleasure seeing what the Circle Theatre--long noted for stuffing big productions into a shoebox-sized space--did with it. A young, vibrant and attractive cast--headed by Tom McGunn as Tommy--had fine voices, well-choreorgraphed numbers on a small stage and were augmented by a clever set design featuring a well-used video screen. It's still a bit shocking to hear Townshend's score not sung by Roger Daltry, and the stage version's revisions toward the end were a tad off-putting, but with a solid band providing the necessary chops, Tommy--which I had seen onstage once before--proved to well-justify its transition from 1969 vinyl to 1975 cinema to 1993 Broadway to 2009 Forest Park.

It runs through July 19 and at less than $20 through HotTix, it's a great deal...of fun.

As for the Tonys, it was an enjoyable show and though I haven't seen the other musicals nominated (Shrek, Next to Normal, Rock of Ages) and actually saw Billy Elliot in London, it seems that it correctly won Best Musical and loads of other awards. I don't know how soon I'll be getting back to NYC, but hope to see the revival of West Side Story (Maria looks gorgeous) as well as God of Carnage, which won for Best Play.

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