|By Tom Helma|
MSU Theatre’s remixed ‘Tommy’ a killer cyborg of show
Ten seconds into “The Who’s Tommy,” the much anticipated techno-mania of Michigan State University wunderkind professors Rob Roznowski and Kirk Domer, explodes across the stage, like a Fourth of July fireworks finale gone awry.
Technophobes beware: This isn’t your grandfather’s live theater. Seven screens project imagery; they drop from the ceiling and whiz from left to right, acting like a zoom lens to expand and shrink the stage. Star strobes and LED lights illuminate the set, which comprises a series of virtual sets. One minute, it’s a trashy trailer park on a hill, the next it’s a TV evangelist’s pulpit, then a talk-show set, a la’s Oprah’s two-chairs format.
Those unfamiliar with the blind, deaf and dumb character at the core of this play may find it hard to figure out what’s going on at first. The fragmented, multi-media exposition of the plot is itself part of the metaphor of the play — art imitating life in this 21st century of confusing overlaps and subsequent loss of meaning.
There are many Tommys in our society, gifted mutant-children and adolescents who have lost their way.
MSU’s reconstructed, in-your-face production of this 1960s rock opera is even more relevant than it was a generation ago. It amplifies, with multiple woofers and tweeters, overlapping keyboard and guitar riffs and the social disconnects and emptiness experienced by young people struggling to make sense of things.
In the end, Tommy rejects the internal alienation of computer gaming and external emptiness of media celebrity, instead accepting the paradoxical joy and sorrow of everyday life.
While Roznowski brings all the actors on stage for a final, rousing version of “Listening to you, I get the music… ,” those offstage must also be acknowledged to really get the play. Kudos to sound designer Lucas Nunn, technical director Brian Adams, video director Kris Sundberg and the gaming crew of Dan Marsh, Gyoung Kim and Matthew Bombach.