Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo: Alan Dean.

Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff. Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend.Additional music and lyrics by John Entwhistle and Keith Moon. Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Tommy, can you hear me? Too often, we cannot hear your story with any clarity. Instead, we are bombarded with a cacophony of sound. Although we see interesting projections, bright lights and colours, we cannot distinguish the words, whether spoken or sung.

Despite — or perhaps because of — the high decibel level of the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society production of The Who’s Tommy, there are only a few occasions when there is any vocal clarity in musical numbers or speeches throughout the rock opera.

While director Michael Gareau’s production is well conceived and, there are some excellent moments, particularly in the early sequences, presentation is frequently dogged by ongoing sound issues. Additional confusion is created when the young and then the adult Tommy sit cross-legged rocking repeatedly in a movement most often associated with some forms of autism. (The catatonic state that is supposed to be Tommy’s situation is more usually described as involving no motion at all.)

A few of the performers do bring vocal clarity to their performances. Ella Samojlenko, as the 10-year-old Tommy, is absolutely clear for her moment in the sun. Bryan Jesmer, as Tommy’s Uncle Ernie, delivers the unpleasant Fiddle About with great clarity and most of the pieces by Erika Séguin, as Tommy’s mother, are understandable. But despite having an experienced musical director in Brian Boggs, such numbers as the Gypsy’s Acid Queen degenerate into one long scream and it would be difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the storyline (thin as it is) to understand without the aid of the synopsis in the program.

Tommy, based on a 1969 album by The Who, follows the journey of the boy, from catatonic state to freedom and fame. Tommy, apparently blind, deaf and dumb after looking in a mirror and seeing his father shoot his mother’s lover, finds a way to connect with the world through pinball. Abused by other family members, he finally breaks free only after the mirror is shattered.

The good news about this high-energy production is to be seen in the coming together of the ensemble through the choreography of Andrea Black, the quality of John Solman’s lighting and the sparkle of the costumes by Susan Cole and Pauline Doggett.

If Gareau’s goal was to emphasize the contrast between the horrors of the early stages of Tommy’s life and his later success, the production works. But it would be far more effective if it were consistently understandable.

The Who’s Tommy continues at Centrepointe Theatre to June 12.

Director

Michael Gareau

Musical Director

Brian Boggs

Choreographer

Andréa Black

Technical Director

Murray Doggett

Set Designer

Christy Bindhardt

Lighting Designer

John Solman

Sound Designer

John Cybanski

Costume Designer

Susan Cole, Pauline Doggett

Cast:

 

Mrs. Walker

Erika Séguin

Captain Walker

Darren Bird

Uncle Ernie

Bryan Jesmer

Narrator/Tommy, age 18

Jeremy Sanders

Tommy, age 10

Ella Samojlenko

Tommy, age 4

Lauren Samojlenko

Minister/ Judge

Jim Tanner

Minister’s Wife/Head Nurse

Laura Burk

Lover/Harmonica Player

Andrew Galligan

Gypsy/Nurse

Beverley Soifer

Specialist/Kevin’s Father

Marc Reside

Assistant/Local Lass

Jasmine Lee

Hawker/Ensemble

Axandre Lemours

Sally Simpson/Local Lass

Hannah Grant

Mr. Simpson/Ensemble

Rick Burk

Mrs. Simpson/Nurse

Alexandra Uhlenberg

Cousin Kevin/Local Lad

Morgan Couglan

Local Lad/Pinball Soloist/Officer/Ensemble

Bebe Brunjes

Local Lad/Pinball Soloist/Officer/Ensemble

Jamie Rice

Local Lad/Soldier/Soloist/D.J./Ensemble

Jason Wong

Local Lad/Soldier/Ensemble

Michael Moreau

Local Lad/Ensemble

Brandon Nguyen

Ensemble and bits

Bryn Orth-Lashley

Local Lass/Nurse

Katie Shapiro

Local Lass/Ensemble

Samantha Clarke

Local Lass/Ensemble

Rachel Moore

Ensemble and bits

Jillian Conway

Kevin’s Mother/Ensemble

Emily Samojlenko

ORCHESTRA

Conductor

Brian Boggs

French Horn

Keith Estabrooks

Keyboard

Wendy Berkelaar

Keyboard

Paul Legault

Keyboard

Robin Pitre

Acoustic & Electric Guitar

Craig Kennedy

Acoustic & Electric Guitar

Pete Foret

Electric Bass

Tom McMahon

Drums

Pierre Huneault

Contractor

Drum Hudson