The Who’s concept-album-turned-rock-musical may not provide the most lucid or taxing of stories, but it certainly offers a short, sharp blast of live entertainment under the Bill Kenwright banner. Whether or not that’s enough depends entirely on your level of expectation.
Despite taking nearly 30 years to make it from vinyl to the stage, this latest production boasts all the right ingredients for touring stock: a celebrity in television star Jonathan Wilkes as the eponymous deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball; Kenwright regulars straight out of the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat cast (narrator Vivienne Carlyle as Mrs Walker and Pharoah Lee Mead as her lover); a simple set with a steel gantry and a central staircase from Andy Walmsley; a big, fat and loud rock sound designed by Ben Harrison; super musicianship from Stuart Morley’s six-piece band.
But does that equate to a great musical? For the uninitiated, it’s an odd but simple message: seeing, hearing and speaking are the greatest miracles. Young Tommy witnesses the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, and under their instruction that he never saw or heard a thing, and must never speak of it, he enters a catatonic state where the three senses desert him.
After trying doctors, drugs and religion, and after Tommy endures ritual abuse at the hands of his uncle and cousin, he grows up, his senses miraculously return and he attains status as a cult figure.
Playing deaf, dumb and blind is no easy task alongside a full company and band, and although Brian Joseph McCann has more success playing the adolescent Tommy, there’s no denying Wilkes’ energy, charisma or showmanship when it comes to whipping up the audience into a frenzy at finale time.
But this is what we’ve come to expect from a Kenwright production. A celebrity name; multi-functional and none-too-complex set, an obligatory megamix style finale at which the audience are encouraged, then directly told, then demanded, to get on their feet, sing along and dance.
Birmingham’s opening night audience duly responded, but one suspects it may take more than a wink and a smile from Wilkes as the tour progresses. See him, hear him, just don’t expect a miracle.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at Birmingham Hippodrome)