By Kiana Emmett
In it’s Australian Premiere, The Victorian Opera’s production of The Who’s Tommy is a camp, acid trip into The Who’s ground-breaking concept album. Following a young boy who is ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ that becomes a Pinball Wizard, Tommy is a step back in time, told with a modern twist.
Stylistically, it feels as though the production sits between two different time periods: what is indicated by the story and music, and what is chosen vocally. The vocals of especially the leading cast are more contemporary, whereas the music suggests a more old-school rock sound, of which The Who are synonymous with. That being said, musical director Jack Earle treads the line between these two well, and helps the cast to shine musically.
As the show is a Rock Opera, the story is sung through, and the tight knit, in-sync band are to be commended for driving the show, as it felt as though the music was thrusting the show forward rather than anything else. At times this I felt as though it was a little rushed, with there not being a moment to acknowledge the end of a song with applause before the audience were back into the action. I found this intense and overwhelming some of the time, with not much time to comprehend where the show was going. The costume design by Isaac Lummis was well done, with clear depictions between time and space. The Acid Queen’s flamboyant and dramatic costume was a highlight, as were Mrs Walker’s multitude of costume changes throughout the show.
Amy Lehpamer as Mrs Walker was divine. ‘Smash the Mirror’ was a highlight as her chilling vocals carried all the way through the Palais. The emotional complexity of her character was clear, despite her limited opportunities to really externalise it. Her anguish for her son, and her complicated relationship with her husband I found thoroughly engaging. Matt Heatherington was magnetic as Captain Walker, always drawing your eye with his presence on stage. The gravel like tones of his voice, mixed with the character’s sophisticated, put together dress sense was an interesting juxtaposition between his past experience, and how he wanted those around him to view him. His voice was extraordinary and his performance was a standout.
The ensemble were strong throughout, linking scenes and times together with their clear character presence that really built and enhanced the world. ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Miracle Cure’ were particular standouts. Aided by the richness of Dana Jolly’s choreography, where the music and lyrics failed to provide clarity, they were there to soften the blow.
Vincent Hooper and Kanen Breen were both brilliant in their portrayals of Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie, dynamic, while bringing the darkness needed in their abusive characters. They helped make up a cast of truly exceptional vocalists, there was no faulting the musical capabilities of the cast as a whole.
Mat Verevis as Tommy was intricate and well executed, with the depth and complexity required to make an audience relate to a character that for the vast majority of the show cannot present their emotions whatsoever. His voice was stellar, and I found him captivating.
The Who’s Tommy is a whirlwind of 70’s rock and roll, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who is familiar with the source material of the concept album and film.
The Who’s Tommy is playing at The Palais Theatre through March 1st. Tickets can be purchased through the Arts Centre
Photography by Jeff Busby