Friday Night: The Who's Tommy at the Victoria Theatre

Categories: Music, Theater
The Who's Tommy
The Victoria Theatre
Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

Better than:
Pinball. I suck at pinball.

On the way home after Ray of Light Theatre's production of the Who's Tommy, I asked the boyfriend what would have made for a better evening -- seeing the show we just saw, or lounging around at home listening to the Who's album, with the requisite substances on hand? He came down firmly on the side of the album plus substances. I wasn't quite prepared to dismiss the performance's merits entirely. But then I have an inherent soft spot for amateurish (using the word as nonpejoratively as possible) stagings of Tommy.

The Ray of Light's entire cast, under the direction of Shane Ray, acts with winning enthusiasm, and takes obvious pleasure in the material.  Watching the show, you want them to succeed in their roles. If nothing else, they make the audience root for them. Is this enough to make a paying guest overlook the fact that the singing is uneven and occasionally off-key, the acting ranges from clichéd to hammy, and the sets are for the most part unimaginative?  To each his or her own.

There are some bright spots that bear noting. Mark Koss' costumes are a pleasure to behold, and will make anyone with the slightest yen for vintage fashion want to hit up the nearest thrift store the next day. The moments featuring the ensemble are probably the strongest, vocally and visually, as this versatile troupe does a highly effective job of evoking the various institutions and milieus (military, religious, medical, and -- perhaps most terrifying of all -- that of teenage culture) against which the action unfolds.  A six-person group of dancers contributes some breathtaking swing moves. The onstage band seems to cohere during the second act. And Leanne Borghesi makes the most of her one song as the Acid Queen in a spiky bronze bustier getup, drawing lusty whoops and rrawrs from the audience.

I suppose what you'll make of this production depends on what makes you go see live theater in the first place. If you're looking for slick, über-professional acting, singing, and production values, this won't be the best use of your entertainment bucks. But if you find that there's something engaging about watching a group of obviously committed performers doing their thing to some indisputably rockin' music -- and to hell with the fact that a certain prop stayed onstage for a scene and a half too long -- you may not consider it time or money ill spent. That album, the candle, and your entire future will still be there when you get home.

By the way: Runs through Nov. 7 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Tickets are $25-$36; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit

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