Presented by Adelaide Festival of Arts
Reviewed 27 March 2015
This latest reimaging of The Who’s rock opera is a collaboration between Hal Willner (producer) and composer Eric Mingus. A play, it is not, and those unfamiliar with the story will be none-the-wiser from this concert version of the album.
The stage is filled by an 18-strong band with a backdrop of archways where two projections of the central character float, one above the other, for the duration of the play. The cast enter and exit to sing with restricted movement, while the title character, played beautifully by Yael Stone, often stands upstage, isolated from the singers.
The story of Tommy is that of a psychosomatically ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ youth who becomes a pinball sensation. It’s based on The Who’s concept album by Pete Townshend, produced in the late 60s, which has since been transcribed for the stage and screen.
Those expecting a reinterpretation of the Broadway play will be grossly disappointed. The cast here is all sensational in voice but this is a concert of the music, reimaged into avant-garde jazz. Amognst others, it features Eric Mingus as the narrator, Camille O’Sullivan as Tommy’s mother, and founding member of The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster, as his father.
It’s an odd choice to cast a female in the male role of Tommy although Stone’s presence doesn’t distract in the slightest from the role. If you’re looking for cool though, Mingus is the only one who pulls it off, if not a little self-indulgently at times.
The large band fills the stage not just with their physical presence, but their voices and skill. What an ensemble! They sound exceptional and, other than drowning out the cast at times, they can do no wrong. It’s not often the band steals the show but they are the stars with a supporting cast to sing along with them.
If you’re not a fan of jazz, this won’t be the Festival piece for you; likewise for those seeking a play or something closer to the original rock opera. For everyone else, this new interpretation may be the hot jazz biscuit you’ve been looking for.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 5: 3
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 27 February – 1 March 2015
Duration: 90 minutes (no interval)
Bookings: Book through the Adelaide Festival online or through BASS online, phone 131 246 (booking fees apply)