Egyptian Theatre stays true to The Who
If the remaining Who band members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey decided to hop on British Airways and take a Utah ski holiday within the next month, they might just finding themselves tapping their feet and nodding their heads après ski to some of their own tunes.
In a tiny orchestra cranny beneath a two-tiered stage made to look like a giant British-flag-themed pinball machine, Egyptian Theatre Musical Director David Evanoff and his five-piece band pump palpable heart into The Who’s "Tommy," lending between-the-scenes support by employing gentle and jagged riffs from The Who’s song "Sparks" as a leitmotif.
Evanoff, along with guitarists Mark D. Maxson, Alex Row and keyboardists Jenny Floor and Carrie Maxson arguably pull off a remarkable feat in this production. There is no dialogue allowing them to "take five" and given the stage arrangement, there is no scrim and no pit to hide under. From "It’s A Boy" to "Pinball Wizard" to "I’m Free," the musicians are center-stage, racking up more stage time than Tommy himself.
But the Egyptian’s performance is truly a marriage of vocal and instrumental talent.
Second only to the band’s strength is the demanding range and endurance of "Tommy’s" lead, Geoff Hemingway, who accompanies nearly every scene as a narrator, a player or a sympathetic ghost haunting his own childhood. The role requires Hemingway to match the vocals of Daltrey’s raging charisma and ability to delve into deep octaves while managing to be equally as comfortable up high. Tommy Walker must be sweet and soft, at times and hard-edged and rebellious, at others. Hemingway inhabits his part with sympathy for the music, without forgetting to act or keep up with the choreography.
Hemingway is also in good company, both vocally and theatrically, flanked by the mighty efforts of Ginger Bess Simons who plays Mrs. Walker, Tommy’s wholesome mother, and Daniel Simons, who play’s Tommy’s taunting and demonic older cousin, Kevin. Tommy’s younger selves, 10-year-old Tommy and four-year-old Tommy played by Matthew Groy and Quinn Lewis-Humlicek also should receive credit for their professional performances. Early in the show, after Tommy is stricken deaf, mute and blind by a traumatic experience at the age of four, the two manage to maintain stone-cold faces and near-comatose body language as the ensemble of energetic dancers and singers poke and prod and pick them up like lifeless dolls.
Stealing scenes with a maniacal grin was Kenneth Wayne filling the shoes of the monstrous drunken Uncle Ernie, who revels in his evil persona as he sexually abuses his helpless nephew and later attempts to profit off him when he becomes famous for his abilities to play pinball and worshipped as a saint for his remarkable recovery from being deaf dumb and blind.
Wayne, under the keen judgment of director Jerry Rapier, handles the rape scene with taste. There is no on-stage contact between actors. Instead, waving hands from actors hiding beneath Tommy’s bed suggest the idea of sexual assault, allowing the audience to imagine the most sobering event in the narrative.
The same restraint is not as evident in "Acid Queen" scene that finds Tommy and his father in the midst of a heroin-pumping, poll-dancing, strip-club crowd, where dancers become less sex-suggestive and more sex-explicit. Yet again, however, the song overrides most everything else, as the commanding Acid Queen herself played by Chelsi Stahr offers a sultry and powerful performance.
"Tommy" is an ambitious pick for the intimate space within the 266-seat Egyptian Theatre. Between the script’s complex and heavy story line, and the expectations that inherently go along with any rock n’ roll band as popular as The Who, the production of the rock opera musical is a tall order, but given the near flawless performance of the cast, crew and orchestra members, someone should drop Daltrey and Townshend a line and tell them it might just be worth the short trip across the Atlantic.
"Tommy" will continue to show through March 10 at The Egyptian Theatre located at 328 Main Street. For tickets, please call 649-9371.
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Public comment was split on the proposal for a massive new development at Kimball Junction during a public hearing Wednesday. Summit County councilors did not vote and indicated they would work to negotiate further with the developer.