The Who's Tommy
Review By Emilee Hatfield
Do you ever find yourself coming across something that just makes you pause, opening your eyes to how much you can take for granted in this world? Works of art such as this often have a rather big impact on its audiences, leaving them on their feet, cheering against the emotional journey they had just experienced. That is the reaction the company of The Who's Tommy received Friday night at Denver Center for Performing Arts.
With music from the popular band The Who it comes as no surprise that the show would be rather popular based on its score alone. There has always been an attraction that comes with musicals who contain scores from popular bands and this can often hurt a show's plot in the process. Yet once inside The Stage Theatre it didn't appear to matter where the music originated from.
What mattered was the incredible staging, timing and performances that told the tragic but uplifting story of Tommy, a young boy who apparently has gone deaf, dumb and blind to the world that surrounds him after witnessing a traumatizing event. The only thing that allows his worried parents to see an inkling of their son within the silent, unmoving outer shell is that of the game of pinball. A game that he has a great talent and love for as his mother did before him.
Set designer Josh Sherwood creates a miraculously world, emerging both the inside of Tommy's mind and the world that he has detached from. Upon seeing the single little house situated perfectly in the center of the stage once I took my seat, I was a little intrigued. Sherwood's simple opening design was a gateway as the young Tommy (played wonderfully by Randy Wright) opens the roof of the home and climbs out onto the stage, which ensues both a beautiful, and mesmerizing sight of design, lighting (By David Weiner), projections, (By Alex Basco Koch) and sound, (By Ken Travis). Once the story shifts, we see the little house disappear underneath the stage, only to find a larger version now towering from floor to ceiling as the backdrop of the set allowing the actors to climb up and down it throughout the show.
This production breathes life not only into the stage but into the actors as well. It appears as if through this fantastic design and amazing costumes (By Kevin Copenhaver), the actors become one with the set, leaving the audience to be transfixed by the transformation and tale that is taking place.
Sherwood and his team deserves a review all their own, many people within the Denver Metro area whether they be avid theatre goers or not will be talking about his design for weeks once they have seen this show.The talk is much deserved as he not only crafted a story; he gave a wondrous set, accompanying a perfectively synced sound that allows both his art and the actors to shine in a way more than they already were.
The cast does also stand profoundly on their own as the lead Andy Mientus entices, excites and moves the audience with his performance as Tommy. His vocals are rich, adhering to the score with ease. His love for this show appears within his emotional performance once Tommy is freed from his detachment. Yet I feel the time that he isn't saying anything, or really showing any emotion at all within Tommy's silence is where his acting becomes the most powerful. He is able to convey a sadness that only the audience can truly see, and this accompanied with amazing performances by the rest of the cast such as, Owen Tizek as ten year old Tommy, Betsy Morgan and Charl Brown as Tommy's devoted but struggling parents, Carson Elrod as Uncle Ernie and LuLu Fall as the Gypsy are both emotionally jarring and captivating leaving some audience members to reach for a tissue.
One aspect of this show I must point out is how it is able to address trauma in such a way. The metaphor of loosing your senses is used very well as it creates that pause, or hesitation in it's message, asking you to take the time to think on how much can be missed or hidden should we not be more observant to what we have, and who we are as individuals.
Director Sam Buntrock has brought together talent that shatters expectations, opening our eyes to what state trauma can leave a person in, as well as how we must appreciate our senses and relationships. For without them the world would be silent and dark.
The Who's Tommy is currently running in the Stage Theatre, at the Denver Center For Performing Arts April 20th - May 27th, for tickets please visit https://www.denvercenter.org/shows/specific-series/Get?Id=403ac74c-f680-4d72-acbc-1e8d749d7381 or contact the box office at 800.641.1222