It’s hard not to gush when you review “The Who’s Tommy,” now on stage at the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College. The Falcon’s Eye Theatre production of the musical that primarily features a cast of college and high school students (plus some older and a few younger) is a theatrical experience that rivals any Broadway Sacramento touring production in recent memory.
Director David Harris, choreographer Sunny Mitchell and musical director Graham Sobelman contribute so much to the success of the show that they should have been on stage with the cast accepting all that audience applause. (Let’s not forget either the contributions of costumer Rebecca Redmond, lighting designer Samuel D. Coquerille, scenic and projection designer Ian Wallace and sound designer John Fynes.)
The rock opera “Tommy” was first performed by The Who in 1969, and conceived by Pete Townshend, a member of The Who, and Kit Lambert with contributions to its development by other Who members John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Roger Daltry. It was first presented at the LaJolla Playhouse in Southern California, where Des McAnuff was artistic director. In 1993, the musical — with Townshend’s music and lyrics (with additions by Entwistle and Moon) and book by Townshend and McAnuff — opened on Broadway, where it played from April 22, 1993 to June 17, 1995.
“Tommy” takes place from 1941 to 1963 in and around London. It tells the story of a young boy who, at the age of 4, is traumatized by the sight of his father (who had been missing and presumed dead in the war, but who had now come home) killing his mother’s lover (taken after her husband’s presumed death). Immediately mother and father surround the young boy entreating him: you didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it, you won’t say nothing about it. Tommy becomes nearly catatonic, a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” staring into a mirror, before discovering an innate ability to play pinball. Afton Parker plays Mrs. Walker, Tommy’s mother; Travis Dunbar plays Capt. Walker; and 4-year-old Tommy is played by Carson Diffley (and, sometimes, by Tanner Couch).
Tommy becomes famous, but still seems unable to see, speak or hear. Finally, in desperation, his mother smashes the mirror and breaks his shell. He can see and speak again — and still play a mean pinball. Josh Davis plays Tommy at age 10, while Evan Martorana plays the teenage Tommy (and he is exceptional). Tommy’s fame grows and he becomes a cult leader with young followers who celebrate every game victory and hang on his every word until he tells them a truth they don’t want to hear and they reject him (“We’re Not Going to Take It”). It’s then that Tommy, his parents and his friends and followers must deal with real life and decide what truly matters to them.
It’s a great commentary on the lasting effects on one of childhood trauma, and on self-absorption, hero worship and the importance of ethics and morality in our personal lives. All that and more than a handful of excellent songs, including “Eyesight to the Blind,” “Acid Queen,” “See Me, Feel Me,” “Amazing Journey” and “Pinball Wizard.”
The songs are great, the story is bold and this production — faultless, as far as I can tell — delivers on both counts. It’s so good, I want to see it again, just to savor the amazing journey.
The Falcon’s Eye Theatre production of “The Who’s Tommy” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday (April 21-22) and at 2 p.m. Saturday (April 23) at Stage 1 (the main theater) at the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College. Tickets are $20 ($12 for seniors and students with ID) and are available online at falconseyetheatre.com, by phone at (916) 608-6888 or in person at the Harris Center Box Office.
Photo courtesy Falcon’s Eye Theatre