The Who's Tommy by Blue Mountains Music Society (BMMS) started off in a fashion that immediately emitted memories of Hair with flower wreathed, fringed with millennial flair cast members strewn across the front of the stage of the Evan Theatre in Penrith Panthers Entertainment Complex.
Anticipating a hit of rock like the burn of straight whisky as it warms your chest from the inside I waited… As the music started I was immediately underwhelmed, the sound was low and unbalanced. But it's OK I was with them; I wanted them to succeed.
I love any company that manages to take a new approach to theatre and challenge the audience to come with them. But in truth, the downside of doing theatre with no sets, and limited props and costumes with the band elevated upstage for all to see is that there is no where to hide. No bells and whistles to take my attention away from the performers for a second, which is brave, but leaves you vulnerable to a critical audience eye.
What did work about the production was the idea. Much like the ideas I saw work so successfully in BMMS's production of Sweeny Todd, but they seem to loose some of their finesse in this production or be not as strictly rehearsed.
BMMS has an amazing array of talented young people who have very strong, characteristic and polished voices, which was evident in this production. The dancers are very well trained, however, in a rock opera the polish worked against them. Unable to touch the raw required to create the highs and lows of this powerful story, most of the players seemed unconvinced of their own roles, and therefore left me unconvinced also.
There were individual players that stood out, the middle age Tommy was brilliant and showed genuine emotion, although his character was unfortunately distracted by a very bad wig. The older Tommy was very focused and I have no doubt could have given the role what it required, but like the rest of the cast seemed to be trumped by being vocally safe. The acid queen had energy and amazing voice, wearing admittedly amazing platform shoes, they required too much attention to walk in, taking away precious moments that could have seen that role go over the top. The magistrates that popped up in several different roles simply stole the show whenever they were on stage, which is probably not a good thing when you are not a lead… but we loved you anyway.
A word on choreography: blatant dance school choreography, with very 'proper' dancers moving to what should be very raw and gutsy rock creates an instant impasse. Although very talented in your own right, the production needed you to learn the chore, and then lose it in favour of passion and a bit of me uncontrolled thrashing. It's ROCK people!
What was missing was the highs and lows, the rawness, the unbounded passion that rock music inspires and allows us. It seems like some time in a mosh pit at a metal concert would have shaken out some of that training and put some passion and primal scream in its place.
BMMS apparently in their last production away from their home theatre have had an interesting time away, playing amazing venues that have leant themselves to a evolving theatre practice that I pray we see more of in community theatre. Although I sat unconvinced and mildly disappointed in this version of Tommy, the concepts and ideas were very sound, and maybe just need time and courage to push every performer beyond what is comfortable to a place where abandon and genius lay.