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Review of The Who’s Tommy at The Greenwich Theatre

Ashley Birchall as Tommy and The Company in The Who's Tommy.
Ashley Birchall as Tommy and The Company in The Who’s Tommy.

1969 was a really great year. Humans landed on the moon for the first time, and The Who brought out their ambitious double album “Tommy”. Six years later and this concept album was turned into a movie and in 1992, the show was first produced and performed in the USA. 23 years on and “The Who’s Tommy” is finally back in the UK and running at the Greenwich Theatre.

During the Second World War, two people meet, fall in love and get married becoming Captain and Mrs Walker (James Sinclair and Miranda Wilford). As Captain Walker sets of to fight the good fight, his pregnant young wife keeps the home fires burning. However, all is not fair in love and war, and Captain Walker’s brother Ernie (John Barr) brings Mrs W the news that her husband is missing, presumed dead. Go forward five years, the war is over and Mrs Walker and her son Tommy (Ashley Birchall) are settled in their lives together. Tommy’s mother is still young and attractive, and has fallen in love once more, when out of the blue, Captain Walker returns to her, resulting in a fight with horrific consequences, particularly for the young Tommy, who is so traumatised by what he sees, that he goes into an almost catatonic state of being deaf, dumb and blind.

Giovanni Spanó as Cousin Kevin and Ashley Birchall as Tommy in The Who's Tommy. Photo Credit Claire Bilyard
Giovanni Spanó as Cousin Kevin and Ashley Birchall as Tommy in The Who’s Tommy.

Shocked by this, the Walkers are unsure what to do. They are supported by their family, particularly Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin (Giovanni Spano) – who have their own reasons to want to look after Tommy – as they boy grows into a man. On an ‘outing’ with Kevin, Tommy is in an amusement arcade and starts to play a pinball machine, where he finds he has a talent that will propel him to international fame and stardom. However, no matter how well Tommy’s life becomes, his parents continue to search for a cure to his ‘illness’. They turn to various doctors, quack cures and even illicit substances from the notorious Acid Queen (Carly Burns), but all to no avail. Eventually, something does happen that fundamentally changes the life of Tommy and his followers (Danny Becker, Alice Mogg and Scott Sutcliffe) once more leading them all to question their hopes and desires.

Like most people, I have seen the movie version of ‘“The Who’s Tommy” – though it was many years ago – and thought it was an amazing film. Before arriving at The Greenwich, I did really question whether the stage show could be anywhere near as good. I am happy to say that it really was, in fact in places it was better. Director Michael Strassen and Designer Nik Corrall have put together a fast paced, slick production that really delivers a superb story from start to finish. The band, under Musical Director Kevin Oliver Jones, is on stage with the actors throughout, and bring the music to life in a way that really respects the original score by Pete Townshend. And what music there is. True rock, runs side by side with ballads and even comic numbers to tell the story of Tommy in a convincing and compelling way. As with so many iconic musicals, there is one number that is eagerly anticipated throughout the show, and has to be just right in order for the production to succeed. For “The Who’s Tommy” this is ‘Pinball Wizard and this production did not fall short of wowing the audience with its delivery.

Turning to the actors, there is not enough praise available for Ashley Birchall’s portrayal of Tommy. He is on stage virtually the entire show and, as a character, has an unbelievable amount of things happen to him during the course of the production. Sitting quite close to the front, we had a wonderful of view of Ashley’s performance which was totally faultless in every respect. There was a wonderful physical change in Ashley as the audience saw him with his ailments and then went into his mind, particularly when singing the highly emotionally charged song ‘See Me, Feel Me’ which gives voice to Tommy’s loneliness and desire to be ’normal’ once more. A wonderful performance from Ashley. However, he was not the only one to really give his all and the entire cast should be applauded for making the show, and Tommy’s story, not only spectacular but ultimately believable.

So, 46 years after being first released as a concept album, does this new production of “The Who’s Tommy” deliver? You bet it does. After two hours of fantastic music, wonderful staging and truly awesome performances, this reviewer left the theatre realising he had just watched an amazing production of an aged but still compelling show.
5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

The Who’s Tommy is staged and directed by award-winning director Michael Strassen with choreography by Mark Smith, musical direction by Kevin Oliver Jones, design by Nik Corral and lighting design by David Howe. It is produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Guy James, and Ilai Szpiezak for Szpiezak Productions in association with Greenwich Theatre, by special arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited on behalf of Music Theatre International of New York. The Who’s Tommy has Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend and Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, with Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon.

The Who’s Tommy

LISTINGS
WEDNESDAY 29 JULY – SUNDAY 23 AUGUST 2015
GREENWICH THEATRE, Crooms Hill, SE10 8ES
Press Night: Friday 31st July, 7.30pm
Performances: Tuesday – Sunday 7.30pm, Saturday 3.00pm (No perfs 2/4 August)
Tickets: £25, £20 (Concessions), £15 (Previews)
Box Office 020 8858 7755 | www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk
@TommyTheMusical

Saturday 1st August 2015

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