A powerful performance of WSTA’s ‘Tommy’ demands standing ovation
Attending the opening night of “Tommy” at the Winston-Salem Theater Alliance with a fairly full house was even more of a spectacular evening revisiting the very music I grew up on than I could have imagined. The actors were in top form and never missed a line with powerful voices, believable expressions and a shared stage presence that pulled the audience even closer in our cozy intimate space. Sitting third-row center, it felt like I was a part of the cast with non-stop movement, music and dancing. The performance kept the crowd laughing or hushed and anticipating each of the three actors depicting Tommy and his reactions.
“The play is based on the Book by Des McAnuff and Pete Townshend,” WSTA’s webpage states. “The music and lyrics are by Pete Townshend with additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album, The Who’s Tommy is an exhilarating story of hope, healing and the human spirit. The story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb and blind boy who triumphs over his adversities has inspired, amazed and puzzled audiences for more than 40 years.”
Director Jamie Lawson set the tone of the evening in light-hearted laughter and shout-outs to sponsors: Mike Lewis Attorneys, YES! Weekly and the show’s sponsor, IORA Primary Care. He also invited everyone to bring gifts for the WSTA Angel Tree supporting Parenting Path. He was also excited to share the news of WSTA’s kick-off capital campaign to support their future move to 650 W. 6th St.
The music of The Who was “an exhilarating score” that had a multi-generational audience tapping their feet and some silently singing along. The band was placed like bookends with three women on the left and three men on the right sides of the stage. The band was comprised of Laura Wind, keyboard; Gwen Gregory, keyboard; Erin Lopp, percussion; Allan Beck, guitar; Aaron Beck, guitar and Ron May on bass. Knowing this music as well as I do, I promise they were spot-on and they rocked the house!
The cast of “Tommy” includes Jake Messina as Tommy (and the narrator) who truly commanded the stage when he came to life beyond the boy’s silent, yet powerful roles starring Liam Terrill as Tommy at age 4 and Nicholas Greene as Tommy at age 10. Parents Steve Robinson (Captain Walker) and Donna Schimmenti (Mrs. Walker) were a hit as was the seven-ensemble actors and the rest of this amazing cast, James Crowe (Cousin Kevin), Ken Ashford (Uncle Ernie), Sean Farrell (The Lover), Braxton Allen (The Hawker), Denise McKibbin (The Acid Queen), Mark Brown (The Specialist) and Mary Margaret Coble (Sally Simpson).
The three actors portraying Tommy were a sensation all through the night with repeated, spiraling echoes of “See Me, Feel Me” performed in a hauntingly ethereal, yet hopeful voices that kept the crowd poised for more.
It would be impossible to choose a single favorite act in this amazing play, but I have to say that when the seven vixens in black took the stage and The Acid Queen Denise McKibbin’s powerful voice belted out “The Gypsy,” it was a surreal and seductive scene that fully expressed the power of addiction. It also painted yet another exquisite choreographed contrast between black and white, good and bad.
The WSTA’s production of “Tommy” delivers one hour and 40 minutes of non-stop rock ‘n’ roll storytelling excitement with 30 songs and dancing.
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer/editorial/content/copy, creative consultant/branding strategist, communications outreach messenger, poet, and emerging singer/songwriter.
Tommy continues on Nov. 20, 21, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. The show takes place at the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance located at 1047 Northwest Blvd. Tickets range from $16 to $18 at http://www.theatrealliance.ws or call (336) 723-7777.