'Tommy' in concert at the Chocolate Church

Posted Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Culture

'Tommy' in concert at the Chocolate Church

The cast of "Tommy" as part of the Studio Theatre of Bath at the Chocolate Church.

reviewed by Gina Hamilton

BATH – The Chocolate Church rocked out (and modded out?) to the strains of The Who's "Tommy" on Friday night, and brought the crowd to its feet.

"Tommy" was the seminal rock opera written in the late '60s. The themes – unconsciousness and awakening and connection between human beings (even very dysfunctional human beings) – are just as fresh today as they were in 1969.

The music, written by Pete Townshend with John Entwistle and Sonny Boy Williamson, formed part of a double album, released by The Who in 1969. Somewhat later, Townshend and Des McAnuff adapted the rock opera for musical theater. This reviewer saw "Tommy" first in 1976 sung by Roger Daltry (as Tommy) and Pete Townshend (as Cousin Kevin/the local pinball lad and other roles), with other cast members. So our bar was somewhat high, one could say. 

However, the cast of the Studio Theatre of Bath performed their roles more than admirably. 

Stealing the show was young Tommy, played by Isaac Daniel Ensell, in his first Chocolate Church role. At the age of 7, Ensell played the catatonic young Tommy with heartbreaking realism. 

Tommy the elder was sung well by Marc Rodriguez. His plaintive cry "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me" is echoed throughout the musical, and contrasted to his rocker persona in such numbers as "I'm Free" and the reprise of "Pinball Wizard."

In contrast, the sadistic Cousin Kevin (whose role was conflated to include the local lad who sings "Pinball Wizard" and, later, Tommy's chief disciple) was played by Billy Rankis, and he truly carried the show. Rankis played his roles not as a rocker, but as a mod (which is another youth conflict explored by The Who in later albums, such as "Quadrophenia"). Although The Who's interest in the mod/rocker conflict is never overt in "Tommy," it is clearly present in the production at the Chocolate Church – a very nice touch that may not be obvious to many in the audience. 

Tommy's parents, Captain and Mrs. Walker, are sung by Richard Punzi and Megan Leddy, and wicked Uncle Ernie is played menacingly by Clay Hawks. Kristin Hayward plays the Hawker, and Anna Libby burns up the stage as the Acid Queen. Amie Marzen sings the innocent and impressionable Sally Simpson. Rounding out the cast were Jan Crossen, Vince Shatto, Nyree Thomas, Jenifer Van Deusen and Christina Boyington.

The band was stellar. Mark McNeil played keyboard and conducted. Mark Barter and Robert Knowles were on electric guitar, Steve Footer played bass, David Daigle played acoustic guitar, and Mark Brassard was on the drums.

The production was directed by Justin C. St. Louis, and stage manager was Bob Reed.

If we had any criticism, it was simply that the band often drowned out the vocalists. It is often difficult in the Chocolate Church to obtain a balance between instrumentation and vocals; we have seen this difficulty before. Hopefully the balance has been corrected.

"Tommy" is well worth the price of admission. It will play on Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m. Adult admission is $15, and senior admission is $13. Seating is open, so get there early for best seats. 

blog comments powered by Disqus