Poster from Orpheus musical theatre. Guest reviewer Jim Murchisson
Tommy is one of the preeminent musical scores of my generation. It was composed as a theme album and as such it is a fine example of epic rock and roll story telling. The Who though are not playwrights: What they are is Rock and Roll.
I don’t believe Tommy is a great play. To work as musical theatre Tommy needs all the extras working for it… lighting effects, complex choreography usually aided by a big budget to fill in for the sparse dialogue and thin story line… and it needs to rock. Sometimes great community theatre can get around the budget limitations with personality and innovation. If they have a great play they can. From what I have seen of the Broadway production they didn’t completely overcome the challenges of a weak play although they won technical awards for lighting, choreography and direction.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the Who aren’t great nor that Orpheus can’t rock. What I am saying is that the combination of rock and Theatre did not work on this night. You don’t get to know the characters on an intimate human level in songs of the Who the same way you do in a play like Titanic or Rent. The characters in Tommy are larger than life and like rock and roll exaggerated as if in a dream or a nightmare. They are meant to be shocking, ridiculous or grotesque and they weren’t. At times it felt like a series of songs rather than a narrative and it seemed people were moving from spot to spot rather than needing to be there.
The balance between the orchestra and the voices also was not particularly good resulting in the voices being distorted at times and muffled or lost at others. This will improve as the run carries on but not enough to make the production a season standout. The audience held its applause during the closing number until it was over. Sometimes you can barely hear the orchestra for the cheering as each character enters in the finale. The audience can add a pulse to the curtain call that is exhilarating. Ultimately there was a standing ovation from much of the audience but it appeared to be more respect for the effort than urgency or excitement for the night.
I must confess that I have an extreme bias for this company and it’s director, Michael Gareau because I have performed with them recently in Fiddler On The Roof. I wanted to really love this production. When you are writing about family it is difficult to remain impartial and the theatre is very much a family. It is an investment of time and energy; sweat and love; that requires unwavering dedication. That doesn’t change. Regardless of my opinion on the evening’s performance, Orpheus will be a part of Ottawa and the Orpheus kids are way more than alright.