Review: A slender allegory, but for Who fans, who cares?
That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball in “The Who’s Tommy” at the David Henry Hwang Theater. Although Des McAnuff and Pete Townshend’s Tony Award-winning 1993 stage adaptation of the Who’s rock opera recording still has its dramaturgical issues, that shouldn’t keep the faithful from the impressively staged, intensely performed revival by East West Players.
Director Snehal Desai oversees a glossy, Asian-inflected production, which grabs the eye from first sight of designer Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz’s smartly functional set, replete with strobe-capable light towers and compact discs hanging from the proscenium like hallucinogenic sequins.
It affords Karyn Lawrence’s formidable light plot and Sean T. Cawelti’s mind-bending projections the optimum in dazzle. The strong-voiced cast commands the space, bouncing through Janet Roston’s choreography, devouring the numbers in tandem with musical director Marc Macalintal’s rip-roaring band.
As the titular hero, Joseph Morales exhibits both restraint and fervor, as do Araceli Prasarttongosoth and Michayla Brown as, respectively, his 4- and 10-year-old selves. Cliffton Hall and Deedee Magno Hall give his parents soaring vocals and acute presence; Ryan Castellino’s sadistic Cousin Kevin and Parvesh Cheena’s perverted Uncle Ernie are aptly squirm-making.
Their colleagues acquit themselves well, with Constance Jewell Lopez’s fierce Acid Queen, Michael Dashefsky’s piquant Pinball Lad and Cailan Rose’s antic Sally Simpson among the standouts in an imposing ensemble.
Everyone’s invested work goes far to conceal the property’s limitations. Moving the action up from the World War II era is creative, but occasionally perplexing -- costumer Jenny Foldenauer’s inventively polyglot wardrobe sometimes suggests the Brady Bunch conscripted by the Peking Opera -- and the perennial rock musical liability of indistinct lyrics recurs throughout.
Still, if “Tommy” remains more glorified concept album than fulfilled concept musical -- its narrative is at best a slender allegory -- when little parachutists descend from the venue’s ceiling, or the three Tommys tag-team in unaffected sync, adventurous audiences and longtime Who devotees should be satisfied.
“The Who’s Tommy,” East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 7. $43-$58. (213) 625-7000 or www.eastwestplayers.org. Running time: 2 hours.
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