Right before California shut down most gatherings to shelter-in-place for Covid-19, we were able to attend CSUB’s production of Tommy. My eldest is a big classic rock fan, so we went together to see this.
Written mostly by Pete Townshend, with contributions from Des McAnuff and the rest of the Who, Tommy is a rock opera that was originally an album centered on the song “Pinball Wizard.” It was adapted for stage in 1992, and that is the version we saw.
The plot is a bit bizarre: young Tommy becomes deaf, blind, and dumb after witnessing his father (recently released from a POW camp) kill his mother’s lover after a fight. He remains unresponsive for years, until he turns out to be a pinball savant, playing entirely by feel. Later, his mother smashes the mirror in which Tommy saw the killing, and Tommy suddenly recovers his senses. He becomes a celebrity, but becomes disillusioned with the way his fans look to him as a spiritual leader, so he withdraws from public life to be with his family.
College productions are a bit unpredictable, in part because the student talent varies from year to year. In general, CSUB has high production values, and often some great acting. The weakest part has typically been the dropoff from the best actors and singers to the lesser ones. In this case, this was apparent between the best singers and the ones that were in a bit over their heads.
The good news is that the part of the adult Tommy was played by Natalie Love, who was excellent. Also outstanding in a bit part was Jan Mateo Tugab, with electrifying dance moves and solid singing. The overall ensemble was good, but a few of the singers tended to drift on pitch from time to time when singing alone.
The live band was a real treat. Anchored by local pro and veteran of several outstanding local bands, drummer Cesario Garaza, the band was tight all night, well balanced, and energetic. For the most part, it was pros, not students - and that is how they sounded. For me, that was the best part.
I also loved the creative set, which evoked a pinball machine. Whoever handles set design and construction at CSUB deserves major props for both creativity and craftsmanship - sets have been consistently great for years.
It is sad right now that all theater in the state of California is shut down indefinitely, although I support the decision. I am looking forward to a return to normalcy, and will be out there supporting our local arts scene as usual.
CSUB needs more publicity photos - this is the only one I could find.