Update: A performance of “Tommy” has been added at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, at Vashon Center for the Arts. Admission is “pay-what-you-can.”
I was always a big Pete Townshend fan.
Roger Daltrey was the guy with the curly hair back, the one the girls liked as he strutted the stage with The Who and sang about his generation. But for me, the band was always about the incredible Pete and his windmill guitar skills. He was a great songwriter, sure. But he also had magic to him as he played the guitar or did scissor kicks in the air. Throw into the mix that he wrote an edgy, visionary rock opera and you had a recipe for greatness.
Drama Dock does Townshend’s historic rock opera, “Tommy,” proud in its summer musical theater production.
If you love rock, or The Who, or just good musical theater, it is well worth a visit this weekend.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story (young people, perhaps?), “Tommy” is about a boy who loses his sight, hearing and speech after witnessing something terrible. He then travels a long road of abuse and cruelty before becoming a global sensation for his talent for playing pinball. The rock opera was an immediate sensation when The Who performed it in its entirety at Woodstock in 1969. Since then, it has seen success as a movie and a Tony-winning production on Broadway.
Drama Dock’s production, directed by Elise Morrill, is a stellar interpretation of “Tommy.” There are numerous shining stars in the show.
Since this is a rock opera, first props must go to the tight band. It includes Christopher Overstreet on keyboards (and as music director, no easy feat), Jesse Whitford on drums, Gavin Ford Kovite on bass and the fantastic Andy James on guitar, doing some windmills and wearing Townshend garb. The band is not background. It is one of the stars. And they deliver the music with pounding excitement.
Another highlight is Allison Shirk as Mrs. Walker. Shirk is an island songwriter and singer of rock and country. In “Tommy,” she nails her numbers, especially “It’s a boy” and “I Believe My Own Eyes.” She has a great voice for stage and made the part her own.
The ensemble was solid, including standouts Elise Ericksen and Julea Gardner, who each have a great number. Another notable player was Sarah Howard, who belted out “Acid Queen” in a way that gave Tina Turner (who sang it in the movie) a run for her money.
But the true stars of the show were the Tommys — three great actors who played Tommy at age 10, 16 and 18.
Phoebe Ray, as the youngest Tommy, is a study in loneliness and shock and her performance touches the heart. Gabriel Dawson, as Tommy at 16, has a fantastic voice and a charming stage presence.
The oldest Tommy was played by Hailey Quackenbush, a revelation for Vashon theater fans, even those who remember him as a talented presence in Vashon High School shows just a few years ago. He holds the stage like the wizard he is portraying — acrobatic, charming, full of stage presence and with a fantastic and pure voice. Hearing Quackenbush sing “Sensation” as he danced around the stage or echo the famous “See Me, Feel Me” was pure magic.
Nitpicks: the music was a little loud for some of the folks in the audience. Bring earplugs if you have sensitive ears. Also, the grimmest parts of the plot have not changed, but the times have. They are hard to watch, even though they have been updated and softened slightly. And some of the harmonies missed a note or two on the group numbers, which will undoubtedly be tightened up before the second weekend.
But these are small nits in a show that is a clever, innovative and impossible-to-not-sing-along-with effort by Drama Dock.
“Tommy” is a beautiful story of innocence lost, of redemption, and loving yourself in spite of what life offers you. It is also still a beautiful ode to rock, to songs that stick in your head long after you leave the theater — and to the talent of a guy named Townshend.
Performances of “The Who’s Tommy” will continue at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 5 and 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 7, at Vashon Center for the Arts. Buy tickets, $25 general, $22 seniors, students, VCA and Drama Dock members, at vashoncenterforthearts.org. Parental guidance for those 13 and younger is suggested due to mature content.