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The Who's Tommy

Randy Harrison gives a dynamite performance in the title role of the Berkshire Theatre Festival's production of the Tony Award-winning musical. logo
Randy Harrison and Paige Scott in The Who's Tommy
(© Christy Wright)
The Berkshire Theatre Festival wanted a big splashy show to mark its merger with Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre -- a 1903 rococo beauty -- and the upshot is their production of The Who's Tommy, Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff's Tony Award-award-winning 1993 adaptation of the platinum 1969 album of that name.

Fans of this music will find the show a welcome bonanza, while others may be content to find a new idol in the honey-voiced Randy Harrison, who gives a dynamite performance as the adult embodiment of the "deaf, dumb and blind kid" who turns into a world-class pinball wizard.

The basic arc of the show has the young Tommy traumatized by witnessing a murder. He recoils into catatonia and parental and medical intervention are of no avail, Indeed, while Tommy is pleading for someone to "see, feel me, touch me, heal me" -- Paige Scott and Connor McNinch touchingly render the shut-down boy at ages 4 and 10, respectively, as Harrison voices their pain - it takes a potent trigger to dredge up the suppressed memory and thereby start the process of reintegration.

The biggest problem with Tommy is that it really is just a concert sequence strung together by the sketchiest of plots; the segments by which the story progresses are more tableaux than scenes. While the production benefits from a handsome set design by Gary English, snappy choreography by Gerry McIntyre, and some fine performances, the whole enterprise ultimately falls short of complete theatrical satisfaction.

Jenny Powers gives a strong performance as Tommy's mother: lithe and flirtatious when setting her sights on WWII pilot Captain Walker (James Barry, just a notch overdone), and later increasingly earthbound and frustrated as her ragdoll son remains unresponsive.

Two aspects of the story have grown touchier, in the court of public opinion, since the work's debut: the "fiddling about" indulged in by soused Uncle Ernie (deceptively innocuous Christopher Gurr) seems a clearer case of abuse, as does the moment when Tommy's father considers making the young boy submit to a sexual healing at the hands of the Acid Queen (Angela Robinson, a real stage-burner). As for the tortures inflicted by cousin Kevin (cheerily malevolent Ben Rosenblatt), those can be chalked up to the sadistic hard knocks of childhood, writ large.

Tommy takes a portentous turn in the final lap when -- post-recovery - the kid becomes a media sensation. (Here, costume designer David Murin decks Harrison out in a torso-baring rhinestone cowboy outfit). Ultimately, he becomes a spurned messiah when Tommy's followers, inclined to hang on his every utterance, turn on him viciously when he dares suggest that they, too, have the power.

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