Friday, 20 April 2018

Review: Music's the star

THOUGH written in 1969, this smash hit show by The Who, with music by Pete Townshend, remains a seminal work which still resonates with audiences today

Review by: Robert Sterling

Tommy presented by HAODS, Kenton Theatre.

THOUGH written in 1969, this smash hit show by The Who, with music by Pete Townshend, remains a seminal work which still resonates with audiences today.

It created a new genre of rock opera where a mystic storyline is coupled with the energy and creativity identified by The Who and HAODS’ new production is indeed a true tribute to rock and to Pete Townshend.

The show rocks from the initial overture where boy meets girl and takes us, as Tommy says, on an amazing journey, to the final conclusion where Tommy rejects stardom in order to just be like anyone else.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the music which can stand alone but coupled with great acting, singing and staging produces an evening of intense enjoyment.

Many congratulations to the musical director, Alan Lineham who leads a line-up of pro-musicians in true rock concert style. The cast of the show requires a host of ancillary characters and Alan has merged all these voices into a group of six female backing-vocalists vibrantly dressed in red to reflect the music.

They produce a stunning range of vocals, so well done to Carolina Turrini, Karen du Plessis, Julie Huntington, Sam Riley, Jenny Haywood and Karen Drakeford-Lewis.

Fronting the BVs there is a troupe of talented dancers, who, through the imaginative choreography of David Parsonson undertake to illustrate the story, acting as factory workers, holiday-camp cheerleaders and even pinball machines!

These six ladies, splendid in blue leotards produce stunning dance routines which demand great stamina and artistic ability, their discipline is of the highest order and I take my hat off to Julie Green (captain), Jenny Card, Laura Snellgrove, Beverly Painter, Emilia Hands and Jackie Anderson who are on stage for the whole of the performance.

Alongside the dancers are four non-singers acting in many roles, dressed in black they become part of the pinball machine, policemen and even security guards, again the displayed first-class discipline of Bruce Mason, Neil Allen, Bernard Carvell and Mia Harris.

The 11 principal actors and singers are the real story tellers. Their singing is of the highest order. The duo of Rowena Mcmenamin and Kevin Goodfellow as Mr and Mrs Walker is splendid, especially in What About The Boy? Cousin Kevin is brought to life by Stuart Martin with suitable sliminess as he mercilessly tortures the helpless Tommy.

As Uncle Ernie, Raymond Burton, is a pure gem as he portrays a loveable spiv character, just on the fringe of respectability, selling tat and cashing in at Tommy’s Holiday Camp. Mateo Lewis manages to display youth culture, rebelling against society, as he sings probably the most well-known song in the show Pinball Wizard with great verve.

Phil Shelley makes a very athletic lover, especially in the fight scene with Captain Walker and a sordid drug-dealer played by James Gwynne, taking his own medicine and introducing Judy Vaughan as the splendid, dramatic, Acid Queen, dressed in vast ribbons of psychedelic colour as she and the dancers attempt to seduce Tommy.

The specialist who finally analyses Tommy is dramatically sung by Mike Fields and Katie Bunting provides a sexy dance routine playing Sally Simpson, Tommy’s most admiring fan.

Taking the title role with all these singing stars as supports is the very talented Ben Smith, soon to go professional.

His stage presence, singing, acting and dancing is of the highest order and his charismatic portrayal creates a stunning Tommy, who takes us through his inner traumas and confusions.

Backing him are two younger incarnations of himself, played by Max Riley and Ed Drakeford-Lewis, I only managed to see one as they alternate but they have some truly haunting scenes with Ben and will grow to become real assets to HAODS.

This is a truly amazing show by HAODS and well outside their comfort zone, but the director Michael Huntington has really pulled this one out of the bag.

He is to be congratulated on his vision in creating this stunning show.

The graphics which illustrate most scenes have been very professionally assembled by Bruce Smith and the costume department of HAODS have done a very good job. The stage is lit imaginatively by Colin Silvester. I commend everyone to go along and see this marvellous show. Well done HAODS! Tommy is at the Kenton Theatre from April 17 to 20, Thursday and Friday at 7.45pm, Saturday matinee at 2.30pm, evening performance at 6.30pm.

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