There’s a reason The Who’s Tommy is called the original rock opera and not a great rock opera- it kind of stinks. The music is cool enough- I don’t think it calls for the rock-and-roll glorification older generations insist on, but that might just be my stubbornly square 20-something self talking-, but the story and storytelling are absolute non-sensical crap. Restlessly prolific director Des McAnuff co-wrote the book with Pete Townshend and thus I’m blaming him for this catastrophe of a theatrical experiment- he’s lost all the good will points he won with his fun re-interpretation of Twelfth Night at Stratford last season.
University of Toronto’s UC Follies did an admirable job in their recent production of Tommy, casting well with an enigmatic Matthew Lawrence leading the pack as husband/murderer/concerned father of a catatonic child Captain Walker. Meredith Free was a decent Mrs. Walker and Duncan Derry a fantastically creepy Uncle Ernie. Mark Ferrari had the most difficult job, carrying the actual idiot story as the blank-turned-exuberant title eccentric, a role he shared with the young Zachary Levine, who did a great job with most of the catatonic part while Ferrari handled the crazy version of the character who inexplicably bursts out as “leader” of sorts- it was a nutty performance, but appropriately so. The best thing about the production was the band, omnipresently rocking out upstage, enjoying The Who’s music entirely more than the audience sitting through the messy and pointless plot.
The UC Follies, as a company, have greatly improved since this time last year when their take on Brecht’s Threepenny Opera featured only one standout performer. This cast (including its strong ensemble) was much more up to the task than last year’s group. Now, if only that task had been worthy of their efforts.