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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Who's Tommy
Outré Theatre Company
Review by John Lariviere | Season Schedule

Artwork by Murphy Hayes
Outré Theatre Company and Showtime Performing Arts present the rock musical The Who's Tommy written by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, based on The Who's 1969 double album rock opera Tommy. The musical originally opened in 1992 at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California. It opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on April 22, 1993, closing on June 17, 1995, after 899 performances. The Broadway production received five Tony Awards.

Though there are some plot differences between the 1993 stage production, the 1969 album, and the 1975 film, the general storyline is largely the same. When a young Tommy (Carsten Kjaerulff) witnesses a violent act by his father, he is told by both of his parents (Victoria Lauzun and Clay Cartland) that he didn't see or hear anything. He responds by withdrawing into a non-responsive state of existence, blankly staring at his own reflection in the mirror. As years pass he is victimized by those around him who take advantage of his inability to communicate. Now a young man, Tommy (Michael Westrich) finally connects to something—pinball machines. He is in fact a "Pinball Wizard" who soon attracts an avid following of fans.

Further attempts to break Tommy free from his own mental and emotional prison are unsuccessful until the day his mother smashes the mirror into which he is constantly gazing at himself. Tommy is suddenly fully lucid and interactive ("I'm Free"), and the public response is immediate. He is idolized and elevated to a near celebrity status that sweeps him off his feet. While sorting out what is expected of him versus what he wants. Tommy nearly retreats to his world behind the mirror, but in the end chooses a new life with the family he has kept at bay since he was a child.

This troubled Outré Theatre Company production is not quite ready for public consumption. The musical tracks used for the show have softened the edges of the rock music too much, making it sound more like 1990s pop-rock than the hard hitting 1960s rock opera style on which the musical is based. There were sound issues on the night attended resulting in microphones not being on a few times, and several occurrences of interference. The minimal use of projections is ineffective as it isn't enough, the images don't fit the screen properly, and any cast entrances from the house means that their heads block the image on the screen. When the main character occasionally stands in the balcony watching over the action below, it is missed by most of the audience due to placement and lighting. I counted five times that ensemble members made their vocal entrances early, and then had to stop and wait for the right entrance moment. In addition, there was one time when only one ensemble member came in vocally at the right time in a group number. Someone even entered early for the curtain call during the last scene and hastily exited when they realized. The small size of the performance space provides for limited staging options in ensemble numbers. The choreographed moments are energetic and decently performed but stylistic inconsistent and seem frenetic at times. It all feels under-rehearsed.

Are there good moments? Yes! Michael Westrich really is quite good as Tommy. He retains the calm detachment of the character without being creepy, and sings the role very well. Carsten Kjaerulff as young Tommy is remarkably focused and centered for a performer so young. He has promising talent. Clay Cartland and Victoria Lauzun are fine as Tommy's parents, but one never sees who they really are as people, and how they truly feel about Tommy or one another. Sandi Stock has the right edge as the Acid Queen but struggles with her song as though it is in the wrong key for her. Remaining members of the cast have a few fleetingly polished moments amidst a sea of inconsistency, while others flounder.

Make no mistake. This show is difficulty written, with long, long instrumental breaks between sung moments. These breaks must be filled with either special effect such as light and projection art, specific plot advancing staging using the main characters, general vignettes to frame the plot points, or interpretive dance. No matter how well the songs themselves may be performed, it is this that serves as the mortar to hold the show together. That directorial mortar is so missing from this show that its structure simply crumbles before us. One can see cast members working very, very hard to try and make the show work. That commitment on stage is irreplaceable. And it is that commitment which will serve Outré as they move forward to their next production, bringing us once again the higher level of standards to which we have become accustomed to receiving from them.

The Outré Theatre production of The Who's Tommy will be appearing through December 18, 2016, at Showtime Performing Arts Theatre located at 503 SE Mizner Blvd. in Boca Raton, FL 33432. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm..For tickets and information please call 866-811-4111, or visit them online at Outré

Tommy: Michael Westrich*
Young Tommy: Carsten Kjaerulff
Mrs. Walker: Victoria Lauzun
Capt. Walker: Clay Cartland
The Acid Queen: Sandi Stock
Cousin Kevin: Eytan Deray
Uncle Ernie/Thug: Ben Prays
Sally Simpson: Mallory Newbrough
Ensemble: Erica Rose, Kat Gold, Kimmi Johnson, Hugo E. Moreno, Phillip Andrew Santiago

Director: Skye Whitcomb
Music Director: Caryl Fantel
Choreography: Jerel Brown
Production Design: Guy Haubrich
Costume Design: Erin Charles
Stage Manager: Amy Rebecca Krigsman

*Denotes a member of Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.

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