Monday, March 1, 2010

The Who’s Tommy @ Northwestern University

“Right behind you, I see the millions. On You, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story.”

The morning after seeing the Northwestern production (here's the ticket info.) of The Who’s Tommy, these words are still echoing in my head. The ending chorus of “We’re Not Going To Take It,” often referred to as “Listening To You” was the greatest moment of the production.

The simple set combined with the challenges of Townshend’s lyrics, which I couldn’t always understand in this performance made the narrative of The Who’s Tommy difficult to follow. As with most college productions there are simply amazing performances and some that needed improvement. The lead who played Tommy, Reed Wilson brought incredible energy and inner turmoil to the role while balancing a Broadway voice with Roger Daughtry rock sensibility, while other performance reflected the development of young singers and actors.

Regardless of any flaws in the performance the ending chorus of “Listening To You” just made everything make sense and tied the show into a satisfying and powerful musical experience.

The Who’s Tommy started off as a concept album, taking the idea of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band one step further, well a lot of steps further. The Beatles tied together Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a reprise of the first song as one of the last tracks. Within this framework included songs that told different stories which thematically were not all related but shared a musical universe.

Tommy as the original double album told a linear story with varying lengths of songs and musical motives that The Who carries throughout the album. Tommy is a musical achievement, a masterpiece of conception pushing the possibilities of rock music and sensibility into amazing heights.

As a staged musical, the experience is very different. Most people know Tommy from the film that was made in 1975 featuring many of the most famous actors musicians of the time including, Jack Nicholson, Elton John and Tina Turner.

As a film, Tommy features phenomenal visuals, some fun performances and a clear story, but what you don’t get from the film is sense of is really what an musical triumph this rock opera is.

Watching the rock band at Northwestern’s production which were featured in the back center of the stage playing wall to wall music for two hours was astonishing. Rarely do you see rock bands playing live with such clarity and musicality. The authenticity, respect and craft that the band of Daniel Green, Alex Goldklan, Zach Spound, rich Clark, Nick Davio, Nicholas Park, Ian Weinberger (who was amazing on drums) and Alex Weaver brought to the show was truly awesome.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking this show (here's the ticket info). Nothing is quite like seeing great rock music live and being reminded how transcendent rock music can be, the heights of emotion in music and the power of a chorus.

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