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Theater Review (LA): The Who’s Tommy at the MET Theater

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One of the first works to be dubbed a “rock opera,” Tommy was released as a double-record set in 1969 and became a hit, eventually selling over 20 million copies worldwide.

Its first visual realization arrived courtesy of cinematic madman Ken Russell, whose 1975 film is the version that most quickly comes to the minds of contemporary audiences. It wasn’t until 1992 that a legitimate stage production of the piece, co-written by The Who’s Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, made it to Manhattan, winning five Tony Awards. There are some plot shifts, as well as differences in lyrics, between the film and the show (which more closely follows the original album), but they share a common storyline about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who recovers his senses and becomes a spiritual leader.

The Los Angeles-based DOMA Theatre Company has taken on the challenge of mounting this juggernaut as the opener of its 2012 season, and it makes for a satisfying evening of classic rock.

Creatively utilizing the resources of their small space, producers Dolf Ramos and Marco Gomez, along with director Hallie Baran (whose recent Pippin at DOMA was very good), have adapted the show for a four-piece band and 19 performers.

Chris Raymond’s band recreates Townshend’s elaborate orchestrations with surprising authority, and Angela Todaro’s choreography is exhiliarating, particularly in the numbers that involve the full chorus. The scenic design by Brandy Jacobs is clean, with just enough props to suggest time and place—and there’s an awesome, smoke-spewing pinball machine.

Jess Ford is a sensation as the adult Tommy, guiding his younger self (Donovan Baise) on his “Amazing Journey.” Geoffrey Going, as Captain Walker, has a voice better suited to Broadway than rock, but his character isn’t required to do any serious wailing, so it works out. Anna Ty Bergman is earnest as Tommy’s mother, and she does a nice “Smash the Mirror.”

Adam Simon Krist was an inspired choice to play sadistic Cousin Kevin, as he can’t be more than a few years older than nine-year-old Baise, but he’s so clearly enjoying his role that he passes his exuberance along to the audience.

Karl Maschek is also memorable as the other perverted member of Tommy’s family, wicked Uncle Ernie. As the Acid Queen, Stephanie Hayslip hits it out of the park with the number made famous by Tina Turner in Russell’s film. And, in one of the show’s most memorable scenes, Chris Kerrigan delivers a rocking “Pinball Wizard.” (Note: young Tommy, the Acid Queen and Cousin Kevin will be played by different actors on some nights.)

DOMA has lofty ambitions, and it’s great to see a company in Los Angeles with the chutzpah to stage big musicals on a microbudget.

The Who’s Tommy plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through April 15th at the MET Theater, 1089 North Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 465-0393.

Photos: Michael Lamont

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.