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Deaf, dumb, blind and entertaining

By Joel Rosenberg

Colonial Theater

4/23 at 8pm, 4/24 at 2pm and 8pm, 4/25 at 2pm and 7:30pm

Tickets $26-$70, available at ticketmaster, 931-ARTS

The story of Tommy is interesting, both in its development and plot. In 1968, Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone he was working on a rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy. Townshend had rejected psychedelic drugs and discovered mysticism, and wanted to represent different states of consciousness through the story and music. It was only after rock journalist Nic Cohn gave an early version a cool reception that Townshend, knowing Cohn to be a pinball fan, made Tommy a Pinball Wizard. But the plot is much darker than anything you can experience at the local arcade, and varies among the many incarnations of The Who’s eponymous 1969 album. It was played live at Woodstock, and appeared as a ballet, a symphonic recording, a movie, an all-star stage performance, and, in 1993, a Broadway musical, which is now starting its second national tour in downtown Boston at the Colonial Theater.

The heart of the story is this: Tommy’s dad, presumed killed in WWII, returns to find his wife shagging some other guy. Tommy sees his pop, um, pop the lover, and then mom and dad render Tommy comatose by screaming “You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it. You won’t say nothing to no-one ever in your life.” Tommy then enjoys 30 minutes of fame: fifteen as the mute Pinball Wizard, fifteen as a cult leader after a toss through a mirror by his mom wakes him from his coma. When his only advice to his disciples is to enjoy life, which Tommy has been deprived of for so long, his disciples get bored, which is generally bad news for a cult leader. Mixed in are some deranged relatives who take advantage of the boy sexually while he’s dumb and financially when he’s an icon.

This plot summary doesn’t do the show justice, because missing are the catchy tunes that get burned into your psyche. In this incarnation, the set is minimalist in terms of actual set pieces, and instead features the on-stage orchestra and metal girders that support rock concert lighting. Creative use of projection video on both Jay Leno-esque drop down screens and the proscenium scrim introduce to the show, and after that the only real set pieces are metal-frame representations of pinball machines.

The acting is uniformly good in this ensemble opera, although Captain Walker, played by Christopher Monteleone, is one of those characters that makes you dislike the actor for no good reason, and Paul Dobie, playing the deranged Uncle Ernie, is particularly disturbing in his molestation/exploitation role. The orchestra does a fine job covering for The Who, which is all that can be asked in any non-Who performance, and, as it happens with pit orchestras, their musicality shines through during the exit music, when the guitar riffs start squealing and the cymbals start crashing.

One funny thing happened on the opening press. When looking through the press passes, the publicist couldn’t find mine. Looking through the stack of envelopes, I noticed one labeled “Keith Moon”.

“Is he coming?”


Understandable, considering Moon, The Who’s original drummer, died in 1978. The publicist ended up giving me Moon’s tickets, since Keith definitely wasn’t going to be around. I would have thought the deceased musician/journalist would have gotten better seats, but such is theater.

Keith, this review’s for you. Rock and roll forever, even if your show is on Broadway.