The Who's Tommy

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An industrial cast, crew and staging fuels an exhilarating short-run production of "The Who's Tommy" at the Montalban in Hollywood with energy, power and Bose headphones. The somewhat heartless Brian Purcell-directed performance shows that the iconic rock tour de force still has legs.

Overall, it's mostly positive. The voices are beautiful, the dancers get into it from the start and it has a sense of humor. And occasionally a moment of beauty suddenly appears, like when Tommy's younger selves float around the stage as if they had wandered in from a performance of Mozart's "The Magic Flute."

The cast is led by Aleks Pevec's mesmerizing performance as the deaf, blind and dumb Tommy. Whether he's singing, dancing, flying through the air like Peter Pan or narrating, Pevec has the audience loving his every move.

The supporting cast is first rate. As Cousin Kevin, PJ Griffith's enormous energy and thrilling charisma give Pevec a run for his money. As Sally Simpson, Jenna Leigh Green throws herself into a delightful creation of Tommy's teenaged fling. As the Acid Queen and Hawker, Nona Hendryx and Ronny Drayton, respectively, deliver the goods with attitude and superstar magnetism. Try as they might, however, neither Alice Ripley nor Tom Schmid effectively compete with the energy their younger cast members generate.

The one thing lacking in this breathless performance is much sense of the major emotional traumas Tommy suffers. On the other hand, unless your notion of a rock opera means Puccini's "Tosca," the production does create a reasonable amount of low-level emotional impact through its sheer musical horsepower.

Of course, what is presumed to make this production noteworthy is using headphones to deliver what director Purcell calls "the best sound you'll ever see," enabling the audience to "be inside Tommy's head as he experiences the events of the play."

Whether this goal is achieved, the Bose headphones themselves, hot-wired to every seat and intended to "introduce high- definition 3-D sound," do deliver a rich, comfortable and spatially expanded sonic experience.

Unexpectedly, listening without the headphones produced an attractive if occasionally unpleasant and unfocused alternative, with grainier textures, a seemingly wider dynamic range and more low bass. Older rockers and young sophisticates might prefer their "Tommy" with the Boses, but kids may find the unmixed, edgier sound more fun. (partialdiff)
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