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Review: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jeff Busby

As with so many theatre productions and concert tours over the last couple of years, you had to feel for the cast and crew of the Victorian Opera’s Tommy, who had to endure numerous lockdowns and rescheduling of dates due to the pandemic. Rehearsing via zoom is never going to be the ideal situation for a show which relies so heavily on voices coming together and characters feeding off each other. Finally after first being announced in 2019, opening night was actually happening at St.Kilda’s Palais Theatre. For many of the mostly masked audience, it was their first indoor event for some time and not surprisingly, the pre-show buzz in the room was tangible.

In 1969, just four long-players into their career, British rock legends The Who released their ambitious double concept album Tommy, the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy. It’s widely regarded as the first commercially successful ‘rock opera’. Many theatre productions of Tommy have been staged around the world since including the famous Australian production, performed at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl in 1973, featuring The Who’s Keith Moon and an Australian cast which included Daryl Braithwaite (who was in attendance for opening night tonight) Jim Keays, Broderick Smith, Colleen Hewitt, Wendy Saddington, Ross Wilson, Billy Thorpe and more.  In 1975 Producer Ken Russell released his fantasy movie version of Tommy, with a cast including members of The Who, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson. More recently, Tommy was staged in London’s West End and on Broadway in America, where it became a 5 time Tony Award winning musical.

In 2022, Victorian Opera has presented a visually appealing, sonically stunning version of Tommy that would do The Who proud. The ever-changing scenes are vibrant and snappy, always piquing the interest of the audience. The casting was excellent, with strong performances from the leads such as Matt Heatherington (Captain Walker) and Amy Lehpamer (Mrs Walker). The youngest of the Tommys, Hamilton Binnie Garcia is a heart-stealer. Main man and older Tommy/Narrator Mat Verevis has a powerful voice, bold presence and was an excellent choice for the lead. It was interesting to experience the creepy Uncle Ernie character, played by Kanen Breen in a modern day context.  While the Keith Moon version from yesteryear may be remembered for it’s larrikin vibe, in 2022 the role had more of a sinister edge. No doubt the production team spent time debating the merits of the original text versus cancel culture.

As with all Tommy productions, the ‘Acid Queen’, is a perennial showstopper. The track was written and sung by Pete Townshend on the original album by The Who and the part of the gypsy famously played by Tina Turner in the Ken Russell movie version. However it was Paul Capsis who made the Acid Queen his own last night, delivering a dynamic and delightfully mischievous performance, which brought act one to an end with a breathtaking bang. Of course, the hits from The Who’s album soundtrack were always going to receive a huge crowd reaction. ‘Pinball Wizard’ was a driving force in the show, executed with vigour by the superb house band featuring musician stalwart Doug Devries on guitar. ‘See Me, Feel Me’ wrapped up a wonderful night with its rousing chorus, bringing the music-starved Melbourne crowd to it’s feet. Congratulations to all involved for their perseverance in getting this world-class show to the stage.

Remaining dates:

Wednesday 23 February, 7:30pm
Thursday 24 February, 7:30pm
Friday 25 February, 7:30pm
Saturday 26 February, 1:00pm *
Saturday 26 February, 7:30pm
Monday 28 February, 7:30pm
Tuesday 1 March, 7:30pm

Ticket info HERE


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