Theater review: 'The Who's Tommy' at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Never underestimate the power of a little hairspray and eyeliner. A teased-up, smoky-eyed Chance Theater brings its high-decibel production of “The Who’s Tommy” to Orange County’s big house, and the kids are more than alright. Originally staged at the company’s Anaheim Hills space, “Tommy” garnered such raves last summer that the Segerstrom Center for the Arts invited Chance to remount the show as part of its Off Center Series. I didn’t see the earlier staging, but this latest incarnation has a street-chic infectiousness that's more fun to watch than bigger, more “produced” versions.
On a bare, two-tiered stage, KC Wilkerson’s evocative video projections take us back to the London Blitz, as Captain Walker (Kevin L. Cordova) heads off to war, leaving his young wife (Wendi Ann Hammock) and their little Tommy (played by Cameron McIntyre at 4, Seth Dusky at 10, and Mark Bartlett as a teen). Of course, Pete Townshend’s 1969 rock opera is really the story of a psychic blitz: a boy who shuts down after enduring adult violence and abuse. The deaf, dumb, blind kid stands in for every generation’s rebuke of its elders: a dropout gamer messiah who suffers for his parents’ sins.
Director Oanh Nguyen brings a wry, SoCal aesthetic to story, supported by Kelly Todd’s choreography, Erika C. Miller’s vintage-cool costumes, and Julie Wilkins' hair and makeup design. The ensemble numbers, with their Mod-punk styling and robotic dance moves, recall such classic '80s L.A. groups as X and Missing Persons, with a smattering of B-52s. The charismatic Bartlett, whose Velvet Goldmine looks don’t hurt, excels during the ecstatic pinball sequences, despite some uneven vocals. (Sound issues of several kinds plagued opening night.)
“Tommy” is ultimately more sensory immersion than drama, and even focused work from Cordova, Walker, and Bartlett can’t hide the show’s built-in narrative flaws. Still, Townshend’s exhilarating music blows your mind. And Chance Theater makes you see them, feel them, and definitely hear them.
“The Who’s Tommy” Founders Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Ends Feb 20. $35. Contact: (714) 556-2787 or www.SCFTA.org Running time: 2 hours.
Photo: Kyle Cooper, left, Kevin L. Cordova, Mark Bartlett, Alex Bueno and Wendi Ann Hammock. Credit: Doug Catiller.