Metro Weekly

‘Tommy’ is a High-Speed, Full-Throttle Revival (Review)

"The Who's Tommy: delivers all the goods in a thrilling production starring Ali Louis Bourzgui, a superstar in the making.

Tommy -- Photo Murphy and Evan Zimmerman
The Who’s Tommy — Photo Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The Who’s rock opera Tommy is back on Broadway, and the result is a high-speed, full-throttle revival that leaves audiences so riveted they need hours to unwind.

Unquestionably, there’s been a ton of mileage used for this franchise. After the critically acclaimed album’s release in 1969, it went on to become a ballet, an opera, a symphonic version, a motion picture (featuring Elton John and Tina Turner), and several iterations of stage shows, first in 1993 (Broadway and national tour), later in 2013 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and now, back on Broadway after a lauded run at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre last year. Why all the hype?

For starters, the source material is incredible. The Who’s Pete Townshend composed the concept album, drawing inspiration from Mehar Baba, an influential spiritual leader who believed that he was God. Townshend crafted the work around a little boy who witnesses a murder and is coerced by his two most trusted adults to keep it a secret: “You didn’t hear it, you didn’t see it! You won’t say nothin’ to no one, ever in your life!”

Consequently, Tommy retreats into his own head, and becomes psychosomatically “deaf, dumb, and blind.”

Tommy features a compelling, driving, melodic rock score that is a most welcome change to too many contemporary musicals with disjointed, cacophonous melodies and insipid lyrics. Fortunately, orchestrators Steve Margoshes, Ron Melrose, and Rick Fox maintain the integrity of the original album, but add softer, symphonic elements that are audibly enthralling.

Sound designers rarely if ever, get noticed, but Gareth Owen should take a bow for his excellent work here. He manages to blend the sounds of Tommy’s disorienting world with the stable environment of those around him, and the result is equally as superb as the score. Owen takes great care to ensure that this first-rate orchestra never drowns out performers.

The malleable scenic design by David Korins moves nimbly through the action like a highly sophisticated erector set. Peter Nigrini’s projections, along with Amanda Zieve’s lighting design, evoke the movie’s trippy qualities while blending modern, dazzling images.

Costume designer Sarafina Bush has draped the cast in so many stellar outfits that one loses track of the florals, plaids, paisleys, yellow berets, and military uniforms. Lorin Lotarro gives her players impressive choreography reminiscent of the great Jerome Robbins, and this more than able ensemble gloriously displays it in several winning sequences.

Director Des McAnuff has assembled a dream cast, which elevates the show to a new high, beginning with Ali Louis Bourzgui in the title role. While it used to be a common occurrence to be gobsmacked by new talent on Broadway, those moments are rare.

Bourzgui is a barometer all to his own. Blanky staring with a glassy gaze, he makes a hypnotic entrance and holds you in his palm for his entire “amazing journey.” With a look and aura that is a strange combination of Howdy Doody, Tom Jones, and Freddie Mercury and a beautiful baritone voice that brings Rick Astley to mind, it’s impossible to look away.

Alison Luff as Mrs. Walker sings like an angel and carries herself with the modernity of a chic fifties woman. Adam Jacobs as her husband, Captain Walker, has great stage presence and vocal quality to match. He stoically navigates the complexities of finding a cure for his son without being histrionic or overly dramatic.

John Ambrosino as Uncle Ernie, who “fiddles about” with his innocent nephew, delivers the right amount of pathos and creepiness. Bobby Conte’s bullying Cousin Kevin is the bad guy you’ll love to hate. As usual, Conte shines with his impeccable bari-tenor tones.

Tommy on Broadway
The Who’s Tommy — Photo Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Stage vet Christina Sajous is tasked with portraying the drug-plugging Acid Queen who attempts to seduce young Tommy into the hearing, seeing, and verbal world by singing, “I’m guaranteed to tear your soul apart.” Sajous doesn’t so much as tear the soul as gently prod it. One wishes for a stronger, more commanding performance here and sadly, that wish is unfulfilled.

Still, it’s safe to declare that this cast in general, is the best of the best.

Those unfamiliar with Tommy may leave scratching their heads. Yet Townshend and McAnuff’s book takes us to a more philosophical level. Tommy’s emergence into the real world isn’t fully realized until he stops staring into the mirror and begins to realize that the collective humanity surrounding him — with all of its trauma and triumphs — has molded him into a multi-layered beautiful being. What a crucial reminder for our tech-driven, phone-obsessed selves.

The Who’s Tommy (★★★★☆) is playing at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St., in New York City. Tickets are $79.50 to $249.50. Visit

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