Sept. 25 2013 02:42 PM

Moonlight Stage production of the aging rock opera tops our coverage of local plays

Eddie Egan
Photo Ken Jacques

"Tommy," can you hear me? You've worn out your welcome.

What was groundbreaking as a rock opera in 1969 and mildly interesting as a world-premiere stage musical at La Jolla Playhouse in 1992 (never mind the trashy Ken Russell directed film in 1975) is now as creaky as an old pinball machine. Whatever daring The Who's mythical story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy flashed at the end of the '60s faded decades ago. And the narrative changes made when the album was initially transformed for the stage—changes that softened and mainstreamed the story—resulted in a bore. This is no direct reflection on Moonlight Stage Company's well-intentioned, season-closing production of The Who's Tommy, which rings all the buzzers and bells. But try as the able cast directed by John Vaughan does, it can't resurrect an excitement and energy that existed more than a generation ago.

There's such a joyous, fresh-scrubbed look to this production that it feels like "The Cast of Glee Does Tommy." While the bullying of Cousin Kevin (Mark Bartlett) and predatory abuse of Uncle Ernie (Paul Morgavo) have the requisite repellence, this ensemble's Acid Queen (Anise Ritchie) isn't very menacing. Eddie Egan is all sincerity as Tommy, but he never seems much like a rebel or false God. Like all of Moonlight's summer-of-2013 musicals, The Who's Tommy's choreography is crackerjack. Musicians conducted by Dr. Terry O'Donnell are faithful to Pete Townshend's score, which, after 44 years, is, regrettably, uninvolving. The music of The Who in general smacks of another time long past, today as canned as classic-rock radio. Does it seem possible that Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were once considered proto-punks by a discerning intelligentsia?

It's a shame that The Who's Tommy is the closer of what has been an otherwise delightful summer at Moonlight, highlighted by a rollicking production of Young Frankenstein. Better to remember this summer under the stars by a mad scientist and a monster singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" than by a rock-culture relic that—let's face it—should have been left alone as one of the great albums of all time.

The Who's Tommy runs through Oct. 5 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. $15- $50.

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Agamemnon: Chronos Theatre Group does a staged reading of Aeschylus' tragedy, first performed in 458 B.C., about a king who returns from the Trojan War to find marital turmoil. It happens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29 at the Encinitas Library. 

Ain't Misbehavin': San Diego Musical Theatre presents this tribute to jazz pianist, singer and composer Fats Waller, essentially a revue of 1920s and '30s swing music. Opens Sept. 27 at the Birch North Park Theatre.

The Amish Project: A one-woman play inspired by the killing of five girls at a Pennsylvania school seven years ago. Presented by Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company it opens Sept. 26 at 10th Avenue Theatre in East Village.

The Few: This is a world premiere of a comedy about a small-town Idaho newspaper publisher who returns after four years to find that things have changed. Opens Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Travesties: Aging Henry Carr recalls WWI-era Zurich, where he was acquainted with James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dadaism—and he does so by way of Oscar Wilde. Kooky? Well, that's Tom Stoppard for ya. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opened Sept. 19, but we neglected to include it in last week's listings.

Now playing

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard's existentialist play turns two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet into lead characters. Through Sept. 26 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare's play, about a man who borrows money to court a woman, gave us the terms "shylock" and "a pound of flesh." Through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Shining City: Ion Theatre starts its eight season with the San Diego premiere of a story about two men, a widower and his therapist, both trying to sort out their lives' trajectories. Through Sept. 28 at BLKBLOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Man with a Load of Mischief: In this musical period piece, a lord, a lady and their two servants entangle themselves in a mess of seduction and deception while stranded at an inn in the English countryside. Through Sept. 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Marry Me a Little: This one—which takes songs from other Stephen Sondheim musicals and places them in a story about two lonely young New Yorkers—was inserted into Diversionary Theatre's current season to commemorate the recent Supreme Court decisions in favor of marriage equality. The production alternates the characters—two men, two women, one man and one woman—so choose a performance accordingly. Through Sept. 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown.

Two by Shepard: SDSU stages Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, about a woman trying to escape a destructive relationship, and Action, about four people stuck at the end of the world. Through Sept. 29 at the Experimental Theatre on the SDSU campus.

The Who's Tommy: Some San Diego trivia: Des McAnuff, former artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse, co-wrote this musical with Pete Townshend, based on The Who's album about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard. Through Oct. 5 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.

A Weekend with Pablo Picasso: Herbert Siguenza brings the legendary modern artist back to life in a one-man show. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Oct. 6 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Lettice and Lovage: A woman gets sacked from her job leading tours of a boring 16th-century English hall for making up fascinating stories about it and later sparks up a friendship with the woman who fired her. Through Oct. 6 at Scripps Ranch Theatre.

The Maids: When the woman of the house is away, two maids begin to play—in a sadomasochistic way. Presented by Talent to aMuse Theatre Company, it runs through Oct. 6 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown.

Skin Deep: Maureen Mulligan is overweight, middle-aged and single. But, she decides to go on a blind date anyhow, which leads to some important life lessons. Through Oct. 6 at Broadway Theatre in Vista.

Logan Heights: The local premiere of a play, by Josefina Lopez (Real Women Have Curves), about an immigrant family living in the titular San Diego neighborhood. Through Oct. 12 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.

The Important of Being Earnest: Two guys, named Jack and Algernon, pretend to be named Earnest to win over a couple of ladies who've got a thing for the name. Oscar Wilde's funniest play, presented by Cygnet Theatre, runs through Oct. 27 at Old Town Theatre.

The Last Goodbye: Dig Jeff Buckley? How about Shakespeare? Get some of both from this modern take on Romeo and Juliet set to Buckley's music. Runs through Nov. 3 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.


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