Date: 14 March 1996
Originally published in: Kensington Post (UK)
Written by: Paul Warburton
The kid who can’t hear buttons or bells doesn’t know what he’s missing. Courtesy of director Des McAnuff, Tommy has come to 3D life in one of the most energetic and sustaining musicals to hit the West End stage. The pinball wizards in this extravaganza of light and colour are the creative team backstage as they turn a mere LP into a thunderous rollercoaster of a night.
John Arnone’s slick but dynamic sets change so rapidly that drawing breath is a luxury. The most eyecatching is unquestionably the giant waltzer of a pinball machine which Tommy ‘rides’ 15ft above the stage. At the heart though is Pete Townsend’s score, given real power by a nine-piece band which thankfully concentrates on the rhythm and rock rather than the pretensions of full orchestration.
As for the players, the sum is better than the parts. They are all unknown, apart from Kim Wilde, making a competent stage debut as Mrs Walker. The scene stealers are Ian Bartholomew as Uncle Ernie and six-year-olds Laura Allen and Kyle Wicks who play the young Tommys.
Paul Keating in the title role makes a decent enough stab at the vocals but has a hell of a task emulating Roger Daltrey’s raw power. But I hold up my hands to a fine show. I came willing to scoff at Townsend’s excesses but it turned out to be a smashing evening.