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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Tommy (Victorian Opera) at Palais Theatre - 110 minutes, including interval

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Great energy, a strong score, big voices, creative staging and impressive lighting design distinguish Tommy circa 2022.

The story still packs a heck of a punch.

Tommy has seen and experienced too much in his young life.

Photos by Jeff Busby

His mum, Mrs Walker (Amy Lehpamer) and dad, Captain Walker (Matt Hetherington) were very much in love, when his dad was sent off to war, parachuting into enemy territory in 1941.

Captain Walker was immediately captured and the military sent soldiers to inform his pregnant wife that he was missing, presumed dead.

Mrs Walker took up with another man, only for the captain to show up at the end of the war four years later to catch his wife making out with him.

A fight ensued between the two men, during which Captain Walker shot the lover dead.

Tommy was witness to it all and his parents told him never to tell anyone.

Traumatised, Tommy became “deaf, dumb and blind”, even falling prey to his wicked uncle Ernie (Kanen Breen).

He was picked on by his cousin Kevin (Vincent Hooper) and his cousin's mates.

But what nobody counted on was that when put in front of a pinball machine, Tommy was quite the wizard.

Still, in his desperation to find a cure for Tommy’s “paralysis”, Captain Walker turned to a drug addicted gypsy (Paul Capsis).

Not through the gypsy’s charlatan endeavours, Tommy was eventually transformed, but had an epiphany.

Tommy, the rock opera, began life as a concept album by The Who, who pioneered the use of synthesisers, large PA systems and performance theatrics.

Live concerts, a film and ballet followed.

Pete Townshend, who wrote the music and lyrics, and the book with Des McAnuff, was influenced by the teaching of Indian mystic Meyer Baba.

Baba kept silent from 1925 until his death in 1969.

The subject matter of the musical – isolation, child abuse and addiction – remain as relevant today as when the album was released in 1969.

Victorian Opera, under the direction of Roger Hodgman and musical direction of Jack Earle, with choreography by Dana Jolly have done an outstanding job with the material.

The set design by Christina Smith, which involves two large oblong shaped video screens above the stage joined in the middle and “opened” like a book, is a revelation.

Onto it are projected images reflecting the storyline, which is mighty impactful.

This is a particularly polished production.

As we watch Tommy grow up, we are witness to his transformation from a four-year-old to a 10-year-old and then a 17-year-old.

Hetherington and Lehpamer are vocally powerful and dynamic as the parents.

Mat Verevis impresses as the older Tommy, off the back of noteworthy appearances of the young iterations.

Kanen Breen is suitably sleazy as Uncle Ernie and Vincent Hooper makes name calling and bullying an art form.

Paul Capsis dazzles in a “look at me” performance as the gypsy/acid queen.

The costume designs by Isaac Lummis for the likes of Capsis leave an indelible mark.

Complimented by lighting by Matt Scott and sound design by Peter Grubb, The Who’s Tommy does, indeed, rock.

It is a show of quality and conviction, with the eight-piece band giving us every reason to applaud loudly.

Victorian Opera's Tommy is triumphant and playing at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda until 1st March, 2022.


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