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Thirty-one years after its Broadway premiere, “The Who’s Tommy” gets revived on Broadway, revisited by its original director Dennis McAnuff, who in 1994 won the Tony Award for his direction of it. Reflecting a world of change since the 1990s, this new production is an eye-popping, digitally-driven technical display, a tour de force of state-of-the art production design. It also comes shellacked with a dystopic patina. In the end, however, the spirit of Peter Townshend’s rock opera elbows its way through.

In the opening scene, our Tommy stands alone looking over a bleak, dark landscape labeled “The Future”, alerting us that there might be a more sinister treatment than we’ve seen before. We are quickly brought back to “The Past '' where Tommy’s well-known saga unfolds. Born during WWII in London, Tommy becomes psychosomatically blind, deaf and dumb after seeing the murder of his father by his stepfather over an argument about his mother. In his teen years he becomes an idiot savant of pinball. Fame and fortune follow, Eventually, Tommy has an emotional re-awakening through which he regains his senses. In the 1960s he becomes a cult figure, with his own brand of religion but ultimately is rejected by his followers. No wonder McAnuff paints the tale with a dystopian brush.

The first act, though electric in pace, seems mired in a linear narrative despite all the digital razzle-dazzle. David Korins, who designed sets for “Hamilton”, and Peter Nigrini whose work includes “MJ”(The Michal Jackson musical) apply a cinematic vision here; visually, this production is more complicated than the 1993 original musical, and more imaginative than Ken Russell’s 1975 film version.

But the score’s the thing. So what if the brass section isn’t as sharp as The Who’s original recording, or if the orchestration seems more synthesized than before? The number of hits Tommy has entered in the rock canon reads like a Top Ten on their own: "See Me, Feel Me”, “Pinball Wizard” (which closes Act 1). “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” “Sensation” “I’m Free” “ We're Not Gonna Take It” and “Listening to You”.

Ali Louis Bourzgui, in his Broadway debut, brings a superior tenor quality to the title role than we’ve heard before. Christina Sajous plays the Acid Queen with more evil than we’ve seen it before; she’s steps out of Tina Turner’s shadow (permanently cast from the movie version) with a powerhouse vocal interpretation of “Acid Queen”

Act II is so superior to Act I, one can forget the dystopian theme and get swept up in the operatic nature of the score. Though the production is technically cutting edge, the basic rubrics of musical theater prevail; McAnuff defaults to tried and true big Broadway musical tricks to bring it home. In the finale’s rousing reprise of “Listening to You” when the entire cast and ensemble step forward to the lip of the stage and take the anthem’s refrain an octave higher, it’s a goosebump moment. That’s a Broadway musical.


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