September 21, 2020

1997-03-19 – The Los Angeles Times

1997 03 19 The_Los_Angeles_Times_Wed__Mar_19__1997_

n; * 1

DAVID KAWASHIMA / For The Times

As the adult Tommy, Eric Potter, left, displays a fine voice and stage presence. The sadistic Cousin Kevin is played with apt creepiness by Brandon Crane.

A Breathless ‘Tommy’ Rings F ew Bells

I Some weaknesses in the ensemble numbers prevent the
complex rock opera from gaining the momentum it demands.

By MARK CHALON SMITH
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANTA ANA—There’s something

pitch-perfect about college stu-

dents taking on “Tommy.” The rock
opera was created by guys not much
older (the Who, primarily leader Pete
Townshend) in the late 1960s and is
fueled by youthful exuberance and
excess.

With that in mind, one has to respect
Rancho Santiago College for its staging,
which runs through Sunday. Under
Beth Hansen’s direction. the mostly
student cast throws itself into “Tommy"

with enthusiasm approaching giddiness.
This isn’t “South Pacific," or even
“Evita,” and the cast knows it.

But in its most recent incarnation,
“Tommy" also isn’t a pushover. Town-
shend joined Des McAnuff in the early
'903 to retool the piece for a more
mainstream audience, adding narrative
passages and making everything less
rambling. The new “Tommy” pre-
miered at the La Jolia Playhouse in 1992
and become a Broadway hit the follow-
ing year.

The reworking left “Tommy” more
accessible but also more complex. There
are a dizzying number of set changes
and scene shifts, and if the ensemble

work isn’t near-peri‘ect, the seams can
glare as loudly as an off-key guitar riff.

The seams showed on Friday. open—
ing night. This production is no disaster,
not by a longshot, but the weaknesses in
the ensemble numbers (especially un-
sure dancing and spotty singing) were
keeping this “Tommy" from gaining the
breathless momentum it requires.

The show has high points, especially
Eric Potter as the adult Tommy. Potter,
who has some professional experience,
has a clear, pleasing voice and the
onstage confidence needed for the char-
acter, who, after suffering tragedy and
abuse, retreats into catatonia.

Tommy’s liberating emergence as
“pinball wizard” and Christ-like re-
deemer needs mature acting, and Potter
is up to the challenge. His rendition of

the signature number, “I'm Free,” is
effective.

Townshend and McAnuff’s version
filled out other key characters, such as
Cousin Kevin, Uncle Ernie and
Tommy's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walker.
Through them, we get to see exactly
why the boy needed to tune out.

Tommy’s torture starts young (he is
played at 4 by Jeffrey Robert Cramer
and at 10 by Samara Taylor) with
pedophile Ernie'and sadist Kevin. Bran-
don Crane’s Kevin is far creepier. Crane
(who played Doug Porter on TV's “The
Wonder Years") turns Kevin into an
unrepentant monster and makes it clear
what hell Tommy is living through.
Crane practically sneers and salivates
through “Cousin Kevin,” the charac-
ter’s ode to himself. By comparison,

Please see ‘TOMMY,’ F6