Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Ken Ludwig's A Comedy of Tenors
In making a connection with his audience, director-choreographer Josh Rhodes manages to blend the human elements of the story with the larger-than-life on Paul Tate dePoo III's set, which shuns realistic scenery to bring the viewer inside a multimedia world. Oblong boxes made of metal rods become in turn grounded airplanes, furniture, doorways and, most dramatically, mirrors. Projections also designed by dePoo convey epic scenes such as Allied paratroopers over Nazi Germany in addition to the more prosaic London streets and entertainment arcades; Jake deGroot's lighting design basically turns the stage into an enormous pinball machine with jagged streaks of light, space-delineating geometric patterns, and illuminated bars in vivid colors and fluorescent white.
Rhodes' choreography alternates between frenzied ensemble numbers and the more intimate scenes for individual characters. From World War II-era dance halls to 1960s seaside resorts and increasingly large rock concerts, the dancers begin in geometric patterns and become more and more convulsive in their mass scenes.
With all that, how are the performers? Casey Cott gives a magnetic central performance as the adult Tommy, who establishes a continuity with his younger selves (Declan Fennell at age 4, an almost silent role, and Hudson Loverro at age 10) to present a vision of one person at several ages. Tommy is the emotionally draining life journey of a child who survives a traumatic childhood and ongoing abuse to inspire millions, then realizes that isn't what he wants.
Mandy Gonzalez is a warmly affecting Mrs. Walker, a mother who becomes increasingly desperate as she tries to establish emotional contact with her withdrawn son; Christian Borle gives a solid performance as Tommy's father, Captain Walker, although the role doesn't make use of his flashier attributes. Manu Narayan manages to show pathos beneath the seedy exterior and predatory behavior of Uncle Ernie (not forgiving him, of course); Kimberly Nichole is a combustible Gypsy, burning up the stage in multicolored sequins and high black boots (designed by Andrea Hood); Wesley Taylor is appropriately sly and mean as Cousin Kevin; and Taylor Iman Jones grabs the emotions as Sally Simpson.
The Kennedy Center has announced that next season's Broadway Center Stage productions will be Footloose, Next to Normal with Rachel Bay Jones, and Bye Bye Birdie.