Review: The Who’s Tommy at the Palais Theatre Melbourne

Review by Benjamin Lamb

The Who’s Tommy, penned by the titular band’s guitarist and director Des McAnuff, is an energetic rock musical that follows the story of “deaf, dumb and blind” Tommy and his journey to becoming the ‘Pinball Wizard.’

The musical opens with Captain Walker (played by the talented Matt Hetherington) and details his journey in WWII, this leads audiences to become acquainted with Walker’s wife and newborn son, who are told of the soldier’s presumed disappearance. Notably, this opening section has no audible dialogue throughout. In a time where audiences are looking for new and interesting versions of the at times homogenous media, it’s an amazing choice, and is a great first ingredient to the special sauce that is The Who’s Tommy.

After the opening dialogue-free montage, the musical gets underway with an integral scene that underpins the rest of the show. Mrs Walker (played by the amazing Amy Lehpamer) is joined by her new unnamed husband and now 5-year-old son Tommy who are celebrating entering the year 1921.Captain Walker then returns and murders Mrs. Walker’s new partner, which dramatically impacts Tommy, and Tommy’s reaction is the basis for the musical. Tommy becomes “blind, deaf, and dumb,” and it appears that he is unable to function.

It's never clear why this brazen act moved Tommy into this bizarre frame of mind, not being able to interact with family or friends, Tommy just becomes transfixed by his own reflection in the mirror. This is when we are introduced to the narrator of the show, an older version of Tommy, (Matt Verevis). He then tells us the story of Tommy through the ages, jumping from year to year.

This follows into the conclusion of the first act, where we learn Tommy’s talent on the pinball machine, which unearths one of The Who’s most popular tracks, ‘Pinball Wizard.’ The second act continues with Tommy’s story as the Pinball Wizard, and his path to stardom.

95% of The Who’s Tommy is music, there’s very little room for exposition, which made some areas not be immediately clear, although the music helped shaped some areas of the story. The show continued with rock hit after rock hit, and the Victorian cast do not miss a note, we are introduced to a bevy of characters behind Tommy, each bringing their own distinct flavour to the show.

The inclusion of the band’s name in the title may be the only thing that turns people away from this show, no matter your thoughts on The Who, this show can stand alone, these songs seem like they could’ve been written by one of the great musical composers. The staging was impeccable, and the inclusion of the band / orchestra on the stage, in full of view of the crowd the whole time, was a great choice, it made the audience feel like they were watching a rock band blow the house off an arena. Forgetting some opening night nerves, it’s clear the cast and crew behind The Who’s Tommy are a well-oiled machine, and put on an extremely high-quality show. It’s playing at the Palais Theatre until March 1.

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