Stratford, ON has always been a good trip. My first trip there was in 2009 to see Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”. A lavish production, with lush sets, fantastic costumes and a brilliant set of actors. Probably my favorite Wilde piece brought to life in brilliant fashion.
That trip was an overnight trip and the following day was spent by the river Avon, feeding the swans and ducks and watching the rock band cruise slowly up and down the river on a barge. That day as we sat by the river I told my wife for the first time a momentous event to come upon us soon.
The second trip did not disappoint either, Henry and cannons, battle speeches; “Once more unto the breach…”, bathing princesses. Neither did the Matchmaker, Thornton Wilder’s poignant comedy that saw life in cinema as “Hello, Dolly!“.
And this latest trip to this little theatre town, 120 km (75 miles if American), from my door did not disappoint. In fact, it is arguably the best of the lot so far. I would even go so far as to say it beat the Broadway production of the Lion King in the use of technology and artifice to tell the compelling story of a little boy struck deaf, dumb and blind by the shock of seeing a man dying in front of him and his short-lived salvation.
The 2pm show was largely composed of older people. The elderly gentleman in the row just ahead of me was adjusting his hearing aid when the opening chord of the Overture hit him like a blow to the head. In fact, many in the audience jumped and there were audible squeaks. And we were off.
Rock opera or rock musical, it does not matter. What does matter is the use of audio and video technology used intelligently to immerse the audience in the experience, innovative “live video” on drop down screens coupled with the power of Pete Townshend‘s story.
Far more than the split personalities of Jimmy of Quadrophenia, Tommy’s troubles seem more believable, more real, more cruel. The music on Quadrophenia is more assured and The Who’s second rock opera has two really great songs; ‘I’m One” and “Love, Reign O’er Me“.
However, Tommy holds the viewer’s attention more. Tommy is first of all visual. It begs the story be told on stage, Quadrophenia is a great album and probably better as a movie. In fact, I found that John Entwhistle, bass player for The Who agrees. This is what he had to say. “I don’t think Tommy was all about [what] was on the record- I think it’s on the stage. The message is much stronger on stage than on record”.
And the Stratford production gets it right. If you’re a fan of The Who, you need to see it. If you like powerful stage presentations, you need to see it. If you like loud music, you need to hear it. Here are some sample clips, turn up the volume to 11…..
Go and see it! You will see it, feel it, you’ll be touched. Heal? That’s up to you. Isn’t that the message from Tommy? You need to find your own way to the truth.