Tommy – Review

Giovanni Spanó & Ashley Birchall in Tommy.

The Pinball Wizard is back in a new production of Tommy that features triple-score vocals and some performances that bounce right off the side cushion.

The story of deaf, dumb and blind kid, Tommy Walker, has been re-imagined for a very stylised musical at London’s Greenwich Theatre.

Opening night was greeted by a standing ovation and enthusiastic whoops from supporters and friends in the audience but, realistically, the show is a mixed bag in terms of concept and performance.

Based on an album by The Who Michael Strassen’s stage show tries for inventiveness but never succeeds in capturing the wacky, anarchic nature of the film.

Ashley Birchall in Tommy

There’s a fine central performance from Ashley Birchall as Tommy but it suffers towards the end when the story begins to lack the impetus of its beginning.

He beautifully captures the agony and innocence of a young Tommy but struggles to make an impact as commanding Messiah and cult leader.

Young Tommy loses his ability to see, hear and speak after witnessing a terrible incident at home. Trapped in a world of his own making he is sadistically abused by Cousin Kevin and sexually assaulted by his perverted Uncle Ernie.

The great Who classic, Pinball Wizard, is a real highlight of the show, cleverly choreographed by Mark Smith, as is Birchall’s rendition of I’m Free.

But it’s the stand-out double act of seedy twosome John Barr as the disturbing, shaven-headed “Kiddy Fiddler,” Uncle Ernie and Giovanni Spanó’s portrayal of the cruel Kevin, that will be remembered long after the show closes.

Spanó is a delight to watch. Handsome and physically muscular, more like a dedicated body builder than a dancer, he is, nonetheless, superbly athletic and light on his feet, a versatile singer and a charismatic actor.

I’ve seen him in major, top-drawer musicals, like Footloose and Grease, and the audiences are filled with his fans. He really deserves success as a leading man.

He makes bully-boy Kevin, who gives a gleeful smile as he delights in torturing the terrified Tommy, seem almost likable.

Barr is a wonderfully vile, over-the-top villain. Dressed as Santa, swilling booze, Ernie preys on the neighbourhood children and Tommy (though the Jimmy Savile cigar may have been a tad too much).

His solos, Fiddle About and Tommy’s Holiday Camp, plus the Kevin & Ernie duet, Eyesight To The Blind, reflect the ingenuity and bravado of their devil-may-care writer Pete Townshend.

Danny Becker’s outstanding voice should have marked him out for a bigger part but he does briefly appear as Tommy’s mum’s doomed lover before disappearing back into the company.

And Miranda Wilford as Mrs Walker has little to do in this almost entirely sung production, other than reflect the changing fashions.

But she almost stops the show with an emotional rendition of Smash The Mirror that reflects her outstanding vocal range.

Tommy plays at the Greenwich Theatre until August 23.

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