Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mean Pinball

While I’ve had trouble pulling up the online version (this should be the link), the latest Style has a story about “Tommy” at Theatre VCU. I appreciate that there’s a story about theater even though it’s the music issue. The band for the show certainly does kick some butt. On opening night when curtain was quite a bit delayed, they did some great covers of era-appropriate songs, particularly some tunes by the Allman Brothers, which happens to be director Barry Bell’s favorite band.

I’m not impartial in any way in regarding this show, in part because of my son’s participation, but also because the enthusiasm of the cast and the huge crew associated with this show has been pretty infectious; I guess that’s one of the benefits of them all being college kids and thereby having scads of energy. There are many actors whose performances I adore in this show, among them Caylyn Temple as Mrs. Walker and Jaci Camden as The Gypsy.

However, this is a show that’s hard for me to love unconditionally. It’s a completely sung-through show that I think could really benefit from some dialogue, in part because the rock-song lyrics don’t always provide a whole lot of character depth. The fact that they could change which character gets killed early on in the show (I won’t spoil the secret in case anyone doesn’t know) between the movie and the play says something about the non-specificity of the lyrics. The final plot twist as encompassed in the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” could use a little explication as well. In general, the first act doesn’t provide a whole lot of opportunity to really know the characters, a situation that improves in the second act. Also, the most iconic characters are a bit one-note, due largely to them having one big song then little else used to flesh them out – Uncle Ernie, Cousin Kevin, The Gypsy (who is only on stage for one scene).

But given that, many of the songs are just knockouts, with the dynamic pulse of “Pinball Wizard” beating behind much of the show. The numerous projections and effects that Bell employs make up for some – but not all – of the shortcomings of the show as written. And, though one-note, those iconic characters are pretty entertaining, particularly the Gypsy. And this production’s choreography (have to lookup the choreographer…) varies from fun to electrifying.

In general, I think it is an A minus production of a B-ish show. I think my lovely and talented son does a pretty good job of being deaf, dumb and blind but, of course, I’m a little biased there.

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