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Volume 24, Number 10 — October 2017

Review: Barter's 'Tommy' ? in a Word: Wow!

Just about every Barter Theatre actor not otherwise engaged is in
Just about every Barter Theatre actor not otherwise engaged is in "The Who's Tommy."

By Robert McKinney | Special to the Herald Courier | July 15, 2008

*** This review appeared on Thursday, July 10, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

ABINGDON, Va. ? — The Barter Theatre's truly magnificent production of "Evita," as hard as it might be to imagine by those who've seen it, has some really serious competition for best show of the year just across Lee Highway where "The Who''s Tommy" has turned Stage II into a full-bong volcano of sizzling hot '60s rock and attitude.

I''s not just a concert, not the Broadway version, not the movie version, but a mind-blowing, full-on rock "opera" like you''ve never seen at Stage II and probably will never have the chance to see again.

The small stage area is filled to bursting with singers, dancers and an excellent live band that does The Who''s music full justice, though I suspect that a couple of the musicians weren't even a gleam in papasan's eye when "Tommy" first arrived stateside on vinyl in 1969.

Just about every Barter actor not otherwise engaged is in this one, but the star of the show ? hands down and bar none ? is fourth-grader Logan Fritz who plays the young Tommy with such a degree of professionalism it makes one's jaw drop.

Barter seems to come up with marvelous child actors almost every year, but if this kid isn''t carting off an Oscar or Tony by the age of 25, then Leo Fender never made guitars.

Fritz is paired with David McCall, himself a Barter Player just last season, who portrays the adult Tommy. The chemistry between the two, not to mention a startling resemblance, is something to watch.

Another standout is Ben Mackel, who is an experienced young actor, but you''ve never seen him like this as the thoroughly evil Cousin Kevin. Think Jack Nicholson at his most deliciously nasty, and you''ve got it. Also notable ? and definitely watchable ? is Hannah Ingram as the Acid Queen, a sizzling erotic nightmare who uses LSD to arouse her johns and, in this case, to put Tommy on the path to messianic destiny.

For those of us who were there in the late '60s and early '70s, but for whatever reason don''t quite remember, the story goes something like this. While Tommy''s mother (Tricia Matthews) is pregnant with him, the unborn child''s father (Michael Ostroski) is reported killed in the war.

A few years later, the dad shows up alive and finds the mother with her lover, whom he promptly shoots dead right in front of the young Tommy. Both father and mother admonish the boy that he saw and heard nothing, and will never speak of what it was he neither saw nor heard.

Tommy is so stressed out over all this that he becomes deaf, dumb and blind, and so unresponsive to external stimuli that even pedophile Cousin Kevin grows bored with abusing him.

More than a decade later, Tommy undergoes a "cure" prescribed by the Acid Queen and, although he's still unable to see, hear or speak, he becomes a champion pinball wizard.

Actually, in this production he becomes a Wii wizard, Wii being the digital equivalent of my generation's pinball or "Pong." (At least I think what he is doing is Wii ...)

Urged on by his mother and father for their own selfish enrichment, Tommy becomes famous and wealthy. Then a "miracle" happens, and he regains his senses. He morphs into even more of a messianic figure with masses wanting to somehow be like him, but, he tells them, it's I that want to be like you.

This doesn''t set well. His popularity plummets, and he has to travel his own road. As do we all.

"Tommy" has been called all sorts of things: an opera, a story about child abuse, a rant for and against drugs, an anti-war vehicle and a crass commercial exploitation of the masses, but it remains a classic relic of the Age of Aquarius no matter what pigeonhole anybody tries to stuff it into.

Amanda Aldridge choreographed this wild production and what she has managed to pull off is nothing short of miraculous itself. I counted 21 actors, and most of them are on stage most of the time. In addition to the adults, look for young actors Nicholas Doggett, Sarah Gregorezyk, Jessica Presnell and Aleia McCloud Warren.

Just because you might not like ?or think you don''t like ?"rock," don''t worry. You will certainly be drawn into the music, the lyrics, the dancing, the story and the fine acting, especially that of Fritz.

Without a doubt, this production is different and notable. Aside from a couple of gunshots, there's not much to disturb anyone about this show, but there is a fine stash of ideas and images, all of which are worth inhaling deeply.

"Tommy" is playing on Barter's Stage II through Aug. 10. For showtimes, call (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com.

A! ExtraTopics: Music, Theatre