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BetteBack MAY 14, 1971: Seattle Opera’s “Tommy” Starring Bette Midler And Steve Curry (Rare Photo)


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Seattle Opera’s Tommy
“As Warm As Dry Ice”
May 14, 1971


Bette Midler and the cast of Tommy 1971
TOMMY (Steve Curry) is shaken by his outraged
mother (Bette Midler)

Seattle Opera’s “Tommy” Starring Bette Midler And Steve Curry

The amazing thing about the Seattle Opera Association's TOMMY is that it has everything a modern rock opera should have, and more, but it left me feeling blank. It's a gassy production with flawless technical effects, very professional performers and a good rock group (Cannon Ball). But somewhere in all the clever effects, the people were diminished into satirical little clowns, cavorting their way through an absurd scenario. 

Okay. That may have been what Director Richard Pearlman wanted. But the comparison is inevitable between that cold spectacular and our homegrown TOMMY. Mike Kane and his troupe of "amateurs" gave us the loving portrayal of a hurt human being who finds a special kind of enlightenment and sadly discovers that he can't give it to everyone. The Seattle Opera Association, in cooperation with Seattle Repertory Theatre and KOL Radio (the biggies in Seattle entertainment) sell us a slick bunch of professional talents in a flashy show.

The direction was a cross between Laugh In and Hair. The old Moore Theatre exploded again with extra-decibal music, strobe lights, glitter, brilliant choreography, outrageous costumes, quick pacing and some nudity. (Does sex sell operas? You bet it does.)

Oddly, one of the most humanly appealing parts of the show were the overwhelming multi-media effects. That means, kids, that the light show was groovy.

Nudest and grooviest of all is Tommy, played by Steve Curry, in a Wes Jordan hairdo. Tommy is first a plastic doll, then a mummified object being kicked around by the baddies and, finally, emerges into an ecstatic hip guru. Having Tommy swathed from head to toe in bandages was a clever way of demonstrating his isolation, but I missed seeing the person acting! Curry's voice has a slightly grating lovable quality, he dances well and his naked body has a vulnerable, lovable quality— but where is the charisma that was supposed to attract multitudes of followers?

Better is Bette Midler as Mrs Walker (Tommy's mother)—The Acid Queen. Mrs. Walker is a promiscuous, stupid bitch and the Acid Queen is her vulgar extension. I felt no sympathy for either of the characters, but a lot for Miss Midler. It's a tough job to make yourself so ugly, and she has a great Janis-Joplin-y voice.

Two people stood out among the caricatures with simple humanity. Patrick Culliton, as Captain Walker has a warm voice that anyone could love. In this version, for some reason, Captain Walker does not return home to find his wife with a lover; he is killed in the war, presumably and spends the show observing from above. His fine voice carries a great deal of the plot.

Dierdre Carlson, "A Girl", who befriends Tommy when his followers have deserted him, is simply lovely in dance, person and song. The rest of the cast is uniformly talented, hard-working and as warm as dry ice. They are doing their job with professional passion, but no compassion.

It is a production worth seeing because of the high quality of the technical staff and the performers. It IS innovative for Seattle and for an opera company. But go to be impressed and entertained, not to re-capture the "see me, feel me, touch me" warmth we found at our Tommy.
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