Creating a show based purely on a story with the music of The Who's legendary album was never going to be an easy order but their guitarist took on the challenge and they began recording the album in 1968 when Pete Townshend wanted to incorporate what he was learning with spiritual guru Meher Baba into a musical art form, producing longer musical pieces. Tommy was born...
Following the story of a boy named Tommy who overcomes becoming deaf, dumb and blind, as a child - somewhat trauma-induced - to become a prophet, the show has enjoyed many outings including a performance with the National Opera House at the London Coliseum, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, a Seattle Opera production starring Bette Midler, as well as the 1975 film version starring Roger Daltrey - reprising the role after leading a cast consisting of Rod Stewart, Peter Sellers and Steve Winwood.
This re-staging of the rock opera, directed by Paul Nicholas, at Blackpool's Winter Gardens too features a few familiar names. 2009 Xfactor winner Joe McElderry takes on the older of three generation of the title character, alongside 4 year old (Harry Jennings*, J-J Maycock and Gabriel Williams) and 10 year old (Jacob Wright*, Harry Plumber and Adam Mitchell) portrayals. (The younger acting talents of the cast, including 3 groups of 'Christmas children', are from Barbara Jackson Theatre School in Fleetwood and show great discipline.) The other 'big' name supporting McElderry's incredible vocal range is an Antony Costa, known from the boyband Blue, as Cousin Kevin described as the "the nastiest play friend you ever could meet", who plays it well.
A show that relies on the music to tell the story, this version does feature a lot of dancing. Not to say it is not well-choreographed because it is but I would, at times, liken it to shows of a similar era like Dreamboats and Petticoats, Blood Brothers and another show featuring a band's music Our House. The lighting, sound and timing (other than one slight synchronisation) are great, with effective projections behind, as are the additions of a talented roller skater and a Michael Jackson-esqe dancer leading up to a highlight in 'Acid Queen' featuring Melanie Bright.
Along with evil Cousin Kevin, we learn to despise another member of Tommy's family; Uncle Ernie (Tony Bayliss), who his parents are wary about leaving him with as he tends to 'Fiddle About'. Kevin takes his cousin to the arcade to tease/torture him by leaving him at the pinball machine, oblivious to the fact that Tommy's senses and skills are better developed, leading to high-scoring hence 'Pinball Wizard'.
After taking Tommy for umpteen examinations, his parents (Ashley Russell and Will Barratt) realise their son's 'condition' is having a strained effect in their marriage in the second act's 'I Believe My Own Eyes' and is mother resorts to 'Smash(ing) The Mirror' in which Tommy seeks refuge and comfort, despite it being riddled with dark memories. This has surprising consequences.
On it's limited run (until 26th September), before speculated considerations, this 'Sensation' is not one to be missed! Featuring a great cast, great setting and of course great music brought to life by Robert Wicks' band - with special mention to 'electric' guitarist Jake Willson who appears occasionally from the slot in the set to set the mood - although some of the music repeats, as one audience member remarked "you never get bored."
Reviewer: Chris Oatway
Reviewed: 14th September 2015