Bristol Theatre Company’s ‘Tommy’ deserves to be seen

by Frank O’Donnell

Four-year-old Tommy Walker’s father shoots his mother’s lover to death. Realizing that her son has witnessed a murder, she sings to her son, “You didn’t hear it, you didn’t see it. You never heard not a word of it. You won’t say nothin’ to no one.”

And so is born the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who grows up to become the legendary Pinball Wizard.

Welcome to “The Who’s Tommy,” now being presented by the Bristol Theatre Company. Director Greg Geer’s crew has created a set that is a gigantic pinball machine – kudos to Stephen Knapman on the set design and construction. Dean Palmer’s lighting augments the design, helping create the feeling that everything is happening inside a pinball machine.

The stage musical is based on The Who’s 1969 concept album, classified as a rock opera. Tommy lives most of his young life in a catatonic state, coming alive only at the controls of a pinball machine. He becomes a sensation. When his catatonia is cured miraculously, his fame increases, and he turns into a reluctant spiritual leader, until he tells his followers that they need to look within themselves and not to him for the answers they seek.

The show moves along quickly, with music that is truly the soundtrack of a generation, played faithfully by music director Alex Tirrell and his small band of musicians. There are fine performances all around, from the dancing/singing ensemble up to Tommy himself.

Cassidy Lee Caduto delivers a stand-out performance as Hawker. Her voice is perfectly tailored to this type of music. Equal to the task is Katie Silva as the Acid Queen. Kevin Silva and Julian Ruth Trilling do a fine job as Captain and Mrs. Walker, especially in “Believe My Own Eyes.”

Logan Cabral and Myles Napolitano are perfectly believable as the young and catatonic Tommy. Never once does either of them break character. It was fun to hear them actually talk after the show.

Finally, Mike Daniels as the grown up Tommy – who serves as the show’s narrator, the inner voice of the younger Tommys, and as a character himself – is at the top of his game.

Even if you weren’t born when “Tommy” was new, you’ll recognize a lot of the music. And the show has a message that resonates strongly for this time in our history.

“The Who’s Tommy” deserves to be seen.

[The Bristol Theatre Company presents “The Who’s Tommy” through Saturday, November 17. For tickets and information, visit www.bristoltheatrecompany.org.]

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