By Steve Dreyer
The annual summer lineup of Moonlight musicals typically includes one production that may be off the proven path taken by the bulk of the theater’s blue-rinse patrons.
This season’s candidate in the category of “It may or may not succeed” is “The Who’s Tommy,” which opened this past week and runs through Oct. 5.
While half of the seats at the Vista amphitheater were empty last Friday night, those who attended were treated to an excellent performance highlighted by top-notch singing, interesting (second act) costumes and spectacular lighting. The two-hour show, which is not appropriate for children, earned a standing ovation from many in the audience.
This is the 30th anniversary of the rock musical’s Broadway premier which had debuted a year earlier at the La Jolla Playhouse. It is based on the The Who’s 1969 double album rock opera “Tommy.” Band member Peter Townsend and the La Jolla Playhouse’s Des McAnuff collaborated on the stage version, which played on Broadway for over 900 performances.
The plot begins in the 1940s and centers around the experiences of a young British boy who, at age 4, is so traumatized after witnessing his father kill his mother’s lover that he is unable to speak, hear or see. He withdraws into his own world. In succeeding years Tommy is sexually abused by an uncle and repeatedly bullied by his cousin and other children. However, his love of playing pinball machines assists his return to reality. His pinball prowess is so great that he becomes a world star and almost god-like idol to young people. Ultimately he rejects the life and returns home to forgive and love his family.
The 22-member Moonlight cast includes Moonlight newcomer and Equity actor Eddie Egan as the adult Tommy. Egan’s tenor voice enhanced many of the show’s songs and he has excellent stage presence.
Moonlight veterans Misty Cotton and Jason Webb portrayed Tommy’s parents and had some of the best musical moments of the show. The same applies to Paul Morgavo who is in his 20th Moonlight season and creeps everyone out with his portrayal of the abusive Uncle Ernie. Anise Richie, another Equity actor, shines in her Act I moment as The Gypsy.
“The Who’s Tommy” features video images projected on two large screens which assist in the audience’s understanding of the plot. A five-piece rock band, positioned high above center stage, provides the music (sometimes a tad too loudly. Costumes are subtle in the first act but become colorful and a fanciful in the second act, which is set in the 1960s. The show’s lighting, under the direction of Justin A.M.M. Hall, is spectacular.
If you like edgy adult musicals, the trip to Vista will be time well spent. If not, then “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady” await you at the Moonlight next summer.
Show times and ticket information can be found at www.moonlightstage.com.