Tommy at the Crucible theatre, a musical based on the Who’s concept album/rock opera and its later incarnation on film, is a solidly, hornswogglingly, joyously G O O D production. God knows I’d love to hear the Who perform at the Crucible, my platonic ideal of a perfect venue, but absent that the musical is the closest you’re going to get. The pounding bass that makes your breastbone vibrate, soaring voices that sound like angels screaming? Yep, all that. If you like rock opera, if you like The Who, if you have a soul, you’ll enjoy Tommy.
And the casting! Great flying spaghetti monster, but it’s a glorious thing to have a cast that is actually joyously diverse. Yes there are actors who are deaf, who are blind, who use wheelchairs, who have different limbs. Yes, they comes in different shapes and sizes and colours and why the hell shouldn’t they, and why the hell don’t ALL musicals have signing as well as singing and dancing, and subtitles as well as programmes? For a minute or two you go “woah!” and then they sing they dance they scream rock music at you and you go “woah!” again but this time it’s not because anyone in the cast is different but because everyone in the cast is goooooooooooooood.
So far so amazeballs. How does Tommy work as a show (and I’m going to assume that you already know the plot of Tommy-the-rock-opera).
First of all, Captain Walker keeps appearing to Tommy and it is he, not Tommy, who wants you to “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me…” Which is all very well, and the actor is sexy as hell and has a fine voice, but it makes no sense for Tommy to be haunted by the sort of ghost of his father, rather than striving to break through the traumatic block in his own mind wanting to be heard and healed himself.
Then there’s Sally, who is a minor character in a single track on the original but has a major role in the musical. It’s pleasing that she now has agency, and it kind of fits into the timeline that she knows Tommy from a child and her parents run the church where the youth club that they all meet in is located. But, but but… at the end of the plot she gets a new scene entirely made of cheese where she has to sell us the idea that Tommy’s messiahood (is that even a word???) is all fake. Maybe there weren’t enough actors left over to do “we’re not going to take it” and still stage a credible riot?
Then there’s the Gypsy, the Acid Queen, who gets one faaaaabulous number in the original (remember Tina Turner in the movie?) Here’s she’s an ageing drag queen albeit one with a faaaabulous voice, and they decided to give her a second number in the second half. I mean, of course, obviously once Tommy became famous she’d have turned up wanting to sell her story to the tabloid papers. But giving her a second number unbalances the piece somehow: I’m not sure how but if it comes to me I’ll update this.
There we are then. It was a glorious, amazing, absolute joy of a production. I went with someone who was a Tommy virgin who enjoyed it almost as much as I, a veteran of the album, live, film, blah blah blah versions also loved it.
…well, except I’m free.
“I’m free. I’m free! And freedom tastes of reality.”
That’s the line. Great flying spaghetti monster, you don’t ask this cast to sing it with the tone deaf tin-eared bludgeon of a rewrite that they used. You just don’t.
“I’m free. I’m free! And freedom lies here in normality.” It does? Fuck that!