By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
In fact, the Phantom of the Opera's "music of the night" looks much hipper, much smoother, and far more inventive. But since we are a society that readily accepts the Emperor's New Clothes if enough publicists convince us of the illusion, and since Lloyd Webber is considered middle-of-the-road and Townshend has been crowned the theatrical equivalent of way-cool, everyone pronounces Tommy as a progressive work when it isn't. Never mind that old Pete hasn't written many good tunes since the early Seventies, and Lloyd Webber is a brilliant composer. Forget that Phantom's orchestration has bite and force, while Tommy relies on too much choral singing and wimpy orchestration. Forget that Phantom has a strong story, while Tommy is just a bunch of music video-like images flashing (but not fleshing) out the hackneyed premise that people abuse other people but nevertheless must be forgiven.
Well, maybe everyone else can ignore these inadequacies. But I can't.
The only kudos I'm willing to offer Tommy is that its presence represents a seminal step toward integrating more contemporary music into the theater. After all, no one remembers the work of George Edwardes, whose first show in the 1890s, In Town, formally marks A according to The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre A the birth of the musical as a form. Similarly, Tommy owns a few good moments, a few nice technological tricks, and of course, some memorable rock tunes like "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me." There's a glimmer of hope here, but a truly inspired composer and director need to take the form into a new realm, using true creativity if young people are going to re-enter the theater in droves, as producers pray they will.
When rock and hip-hop and cutting-edge music finally become wedded to a strong, interesting plot line, fascinating characters, and a consistently excellent score, the marriage will produce grand new theater. Then I bet Tommy will become no more than a small item in reference books, just like Edwardes's work.
And I'll also wager one more thing: the first true rock musical will be born when it has the same generational impact that rock and roll itself once had. It will happen when a show opens on Broadway that prompts traditional audiences to flee and critics to express shocked disapproval, but creates a word of mouth among young audiences that leads to frantic lines at the box office. Meanwhile, judging by Tommy's financial success among baby boomers and the old bourgeoisie, I suppose we're now in for a flood of these rocksicles. As for me, I won't get fooled again.