BetteBack Review April 29, 1971: Bette Midler In “Tommy” Matches That Of The Who

Centralia Daily Chronicle
April 29, 1971


SEATTTLE (AP) – The stage premiere of “Tommy,” a noted rock opera, drove Wednesday night to a climax of tumultuous exultation, a vibrant, vigorous and vivid blend of crescending vision and sound.

The Seattle Opera Co. production gave some clarity and simplicity to The Who’s confused story of a personality scarred by drugs, sexual incidents and religious delusion.

Bette Midler, .a stage and television .talk show veteran, provided the characterizational strength as Mrs. Walker and the Acid Queen to match that of the rock group authors’ music and the visual magic created by cinematic designer Ronald Chase.

Steve Curry and Gary Mascare, weak overall in the title roles, were given little to do other than pantomime the pain of Tommy’s isolation or posture and nearly dance on occasion while singing and keying some, the vital songs and scenes.

The first half of the show directed by San Francisco’s Richard Pearlman was rightly Miss idler’s, but Mascaro should have taken it over when Tommy ripped his way out of his bandage-wrapped womb of silent darkness.

Then Curry should have carried the short second act, but neither was able to do so. Projection of pulsating images, along with the dance pantomime of emergency from mummy-like cocoons of normalcy, salved the lack.

Musicians from the Northwest rock group Cannon Ball, under the direction of Norman E. Durkee, were a dynamic force in the sometimes raucous, sometimes gentle and plaintive fantasy.

Dennis Nahat‘s choreography added caricature and breadth.

Nudity, occasional instances and in keeping with current mores nd the show’s themes was well handled.

Moments of sexual incidents in dance also generally were tastefully portrayed, an exception being the lover and Hawker, both played ineptly by Mel Austin.

The story line begins with an infant Tommy seeing his mother with a lover. The resulting trauma leaves him deaf, dumb and blind. When later he breaks free, he first frees others, then takes drugs, becomes a rock music star and invites ‘disciples” to join his psuedo-religion.

They discover Tommy himself isn’t free, however, and turn on him. Then, again, he and they are reborn into a beautiful haven.

The closing scene caught up the capacity opening-night audience of about 1,600 persons, bringing them to their feet for stomping, clapping,, shouting participation in the joyous finale.

Another show-stopper was the first act “Pinball Wizard” sequence, a collage of stereotypical characters from contemporary America. Los Angeles’ Tedda Bracci was strong in the featured supporting role of the Roller Derby Champ in this scene, as well as in’the’role of NURSE earlier.

Tommy’s song “Welcome,” well-sung by Curry, has hit tune potential as he urges “come to my house; be one of the comfortable people.”

Strongest single element in the multimedia production was the swirling mixture of surrealistic yet sometimes representational moving and still picture projections.

Intricately blended on scrims and screens amidst which the actor-dancers moved, the projection timing was controlled by a computer-programmed electronic tape, a troupe spokesman said.

Another strong paid of strong supporting roles was filled admirably by TV ‘veteran George Ramos as the Cousin Kevin.

The opera, performed concert style by its authors, sold well in their recorded version about two years ago. A Montreal ballet troupe, Les Grandes Ballet Canadians, recently closed a New York engagement in which they danced the show to The Who’s recording.

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