Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage: The Who's Tommy
Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Ken Ludwig's A Comedy of Tenors

Casey Cott and Cast
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Everyone who grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s is familiar with The Who's rock opera Tommy: the tunes are etched into their minds, the lyrics ("See me, feel me, touch me, heal me") are iconic. The Kennedy Center in Washington taps into that familiarity with an electrifying and visually stunning Broadway Center Stage production of The Who's Tommy, which plays through April 29 in the Eisenhower Theater.

In making a connection with his audience, director-choreographer Josh Rhodes manages to blend the human elements of the story with the larger-than-life on Paul Tate dePoo III's set, which shuns realistic scenery to bring the viewer inside a multimedia world. Oblong boxes made of metal rods become in turn grounded airplanes, furniture, doorways and, most dramatically, mirrors. Projections also designed by dePoo convey epic scenes such as Allied paratroopers over Nazi Germany in addition to the more prosaic London streets and entertainment arcades; Jake deGroot's lighting design basically turns the stage into an enormous pinball machine with jagged streaks of light, space-delineating geometric patterns, and illuminated bars in vivid colors and fluorescent white.

Rhodes' choreography alternates between frenzied ensemble numbers and the more intimate scenes for individual characters. From World War II-era dance halls to 1960s seaside resorts and increasingly large rock concerts, the dancers begin in geometric patterns and become more and more convulsive in their mass scenes.

With all that, how are the performers? Casey Cott gives a magnetic central performance as the adult Tommy, who establishes a continuity with his younger selves (Declan Fennell at age 4, an almost silent role, and Hudson Loverro at age 10) to present a vision of one person at several ages. Tommy is the emotionally draining life journey of a child who survives a traumatic childhood and ongoing abuse to inspire millions, then realizes that isn't what he wants.

Mandy Gonzalez is a warmly affecting Mrs. Walker, a mother who becomes increasingly desperate as she tries to establish emotional contact with her withdrawn son; Christian Borle gives a solid performance as Tommy's father, Captain Walker, although the role doesn't make use of his flashier attributes. Manu Narayan manages to show pathos beneath the seedy exterior and predatory behavior of Uncle Ernie (not forgiving him, of course); Kimberly Nichole is a combustible Gypsy, burning up the stage in multicolored sequins and high black boots (designed by Andrea Hood); Wesley Taylor is appropriately sly and mean as Cousin Kevin; and Taylor Iman Jones grabs the emotions as Sally Simpson.

The Kennedy Center has announced that next season's Broadway Center Stage productions will be Footloose, Next to Normal with Rachel Bay Jones, and Bye Bye Birdie.

Kennedy Center
Broadway Center Stage: The Who's Tommy
April 24th – 29th, 2019
Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend
Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Tommy: Casey Cott
Captain Walker: Christian Borle
Mrs. Walker: Mandy Gonzalez
Uncle Ernie: Manu Narayan
The Gypsy: Kimberly Nichole
Cousin Kevin: Wesley Taylor
Minister: Charl Brown
Officer #1: Mykal Kilgore
Officer #2: Kaleb Wells
Nurses: Taylor Iman Jones, Tiernan Tunnicliffe, Trina Mills
Allied Soldier #1: Nick Martinez
Allied Soldier #2: Michael Milkanin
Lover: Rory Donovan
Tommy, Age 4: Declan Fennell
Judge: Michael Milkanin
Tommy, Age 10: Hudson Loverro
Cousin Kevin's Mom: Samantha Gershman
Hawker: Mykal Kilgore
Harmonica Player: Rory Donovan
First Pinball Lad: Nick Martinez
Second Pinball Lad: Kaleb Wells
Specialist: Charl Brown
Specialist's Assistant: Tiernan Tunnicliffe
Sally Simpson: Taylor Iman Jones
DJ: Olutayo Bosede
Local Lads, Lasses, Reporters, Ensemble: Olutayo Bosede, Charl Brown, Rory Donovan, Samantha Gershman, Taylor Iman Jones, Mykal Kilgore, Nick Martinez, Michael Milkanin, Trina Mills, Khori Petinaud, Tiernan Tunnicliffe, Matthew Varvar, Kaleb Wells, Sharrod Williams, Kristin Yancy
Director and choreographer: Josh Rhodes
Music director: Lynne Shankel
Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600 or

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