REVIEW: Burien Little Theatre Gets Creative with ‘The Who’s Tommy’

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by Rachel Lusby

The Burien Little Theatre took a walk on the wild side with their theater adaptation of The Who’s 1975 rock opera, “Tommy.”

“Tommy,” (played by The Who’s front man Roger Daltry in the film) is the story about a young boy who is traumatized when he witnesses the murder of his stepfather by his biological father who had unexpectedly returned from war (it was presumed he had been killed) to find his wife had moved on to another man. (Note: In the film version it is his father, Captain Walker, who is murdered by his stepfather, Frank.) Immediately after, Tommy becomes deaf, blind and mute.

For years after, Tommy’s parents attempt to cure him via many nontraditional (and in many ways unethical) methods. They take him to a church whose followers worship Marilyn Monroe, a prostitute called “The Acid Queen” who injects Tommy with loads of LSD, and a medical specialist. None are able to cure Tommy of his afflictions.

In the film these characters are played by Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Jack Nicholson.

All this time Tommy is becoming a professional pinball player, playing by pure instinct. Elton John plays the “Pinball Wizard” in the film, who breaks into song, singing “that deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”

Other notable characters include “Uncle Ernie” (Tommy’s drunk and “funny” uncle) and “Cousin Kevin,” who tortures Tommy for his own twisted pleasure.
Burien Little Theatre’s performance of “Tommy” mostly followed the plot line of the story. The cult church of Marilyn Monroe was entirely left out, and mention of the preacher, called the “minister” and played by Lance Zielinkski, is minimal. However, the portrayal of Uncle Ernie, played by Russ Kay, along with Cousin Kevin, played by Jason Plad, were excellent and spot on; truly impressive.

The character of the “Acid Queen,” played by Michelle Flowers, is also worth mentioning. Her vocal pitch was fabulous, as was her personality, albeit her image is not so similar to the character from the film.

It was difficult to get used to the character of “Young Tommy,” played by Dylan Zucati, because he was actually taller than the lady playing his mother, “Mrs. Walker,” Roxanne DeVito. Zucati did, however, make it work with his expressions of what it might look like to be a young boy so badly traumatized.

As a grown man, Tommy was portrayed very well by Robert Barnts-McAuley. Although his “jazz hands” were a somewhat strange addition, they were not a distraction to the show.

Captain Walker, played by Justin Carrell, was somewhat difficult to get used to simply because in the film he is dead, but those who had not seen the film most likely had no difficulty following his role, which was performed well.

While the personality of the “Pinball Wizard” (the name of the actor is not mentioned in the program), was dead right, his attire was not. The Pinball Wizard should have been dressed flamboyantly and extravagantly, not in a suit as he was in the play.

Perhaps the best part of the show were the musicians – Ann Sager, Darren Olson, Nick Hagen and Theron Andrews. They clearly knew the songs and were flawless in their playing. The only issue was they were very loud and that often made it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to hear the performers sing. The singing voices of the actors and actresses were wonderful, when you could actually hear them. This was an issue which should be addressed by the sound professionals of the show.

Overall, the show was enjoyable whether there were rusty spots or not. The cast, setting and costuming were pretty good. It was fun and exciting and any fan of The Who should definitely check it out. If you want to know the ending or any additional details of the story, you will just have to go and find out for yourself!

The show runs until March 25th at the theater at the Annex to the Burien Community Center, located at 14501 4th Ave SW.

And don’t forget – wear green (where they can see it) on St. Patrick’s Day (Friday March 17th), and get $3.00 off your regular ticket price. May be used with the $2.00 off postcard deal, but does not apply to dinner and show, online purchases, or any other ticket deal.

Remaining performances include:

February 17 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday – wear green to save $3!

February 18 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday – Date night! Two-for-one if you order via email or enter code “date-g” or “date-s” online!

February 19 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday – SEVEN DOLLAR SUNDAY – SOLD OUT!

February 24 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

February 25 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

February 26 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

March 2 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

March 3 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

March 4 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

March 9 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

March 10 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

March 11 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

March 16 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

March 17 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

March 18 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

March 23 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

March 24 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

March 25 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

Buy Tickets online here.

Photos by Mike Wilson

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4 Responses to “REVIEW: Burien Little Theatre Gets Creative with ‘The Who’s Tommy’”
  1. Rochelle H. Flynn says:

    With regard to you comments on the show “Tommy” and your comparisons to the movie…..the actual rock opera and play script were written differently than the movie. As is often the case, screenwriters adapting a screenplay from other material (like a book or play) will make many changes and add or delete certain plot elements. BLT’s production follows the play script and not the movie. Any theatre that produces a show creates its own unique design (sets, lighting, costuming, etc) for that production. So, of course, BLT’s show will differ from the movie. It is still a thrilling, dynamic, exciting, show for all ages and I encourage everyone to see it.

  2. liljo says:

    I saw this production a couple of weeks ago, and thought it was awesome!
    The cast was great, encouraging audience participation. The music was good, characters well acted, although a little difficult to understand some of the lyrics (if you didn’t already know them). Probably just an accustics thing.

    I would highly recommend seeing this one.

    Get out and support your local theater !!

  3. DUIJOE says:

    I saw Tommy last Sunday. It was better than GREAT!

  4. Steve Cooper says:

    I am the director of BLT’s production of Tommy and I feel I have to comment here on the review. I do want to express my gratitude and thanks for the above positive comments and to Rochelle’s rebuttal as well. Also, I want to say I appreciate the overall positive tone of the review. However, some of her facts are in error and deserve a reply.

    First, I don’t understand why the reviewer spent the first half of her article reviewing the movie when it was the play she was there to see. The Tommy album was released in 1969, the movie came out in 1975 and the play version debuted in 1992. More homework should have been done to discover the many changes made in each of those mediums. The reviewer seems to be under the impression that BLT was attempting to stage the movie and she spends considerable (and I feel too much) time comparing our production to the movie. Let me state clearly: BLT was licensed to produce the play version; we didn’t “mostly follow(ed) the plot line of the story” – we followed the play script. For example, the cult church of Marilyn Monroe was not “entirely left out; it was never incuded in the play version. The review seems to infer that we made that change and in fact we had nothing to do with it. That scene was never written into the play. Ask Pete Townshend why, I couldn’t tell you.

    Her comments about the characters of Capt Walker, The Acid Queen and the Pinball Wizard all seem to reflect her belief that we were attempting to perform the movie rather than the play script. Something we tried very hard to avoid. She states the name of the Pinball Wizard was not mentioned. I feel the story makes pretty clear that the Pinball Wizard is in fact Tommy – played by Robert Barnts-McAulay, who is named in the program. The reviewer also spelled Jason Pead’s (Cousin Kevin) name wrong.

    As I stated earlier, I do appreciate the overall positive tone of the review and some of her comments were very correct. The band is sometimes louder than the vocalists and we are working every night to make the mix between singers and band as good as we can get it. I feel it is a fun and exciting show and any Who fan should come check it out -as she also states. However, I also did feel that I had to set a few facts straight about BLT’s production of Tommy

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