December 19, 2008

The Who’s TOMMY 15th Anniversary Concert–An Amazing Journey!

December 19th, 2008

Photos by Amy Shaughnessy at

By Pamela Singer, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent

It’s hard to imagine that anything coming out of the August Wilson theatre could possibly equal the exhilarating magic of Jersey Boys, but Monday night’s 15th anniversary concert of The Who’s Tommy did just that. Those of us fortunate enough to be there witnessed a spectacular, once in a lifetime event. To quote the eponymous title character, we were taken on an amazing journey that was truly a sensation. Kudos to our own Donnie Kehr, and company for putting together such an amazing production.

Waiting for the show to begin, you could feel the audience’s palpable excitement. There must be something in the air at the August Wilson that consistently revs people up and sends out good vibes! The stage was starkly set with white chairs and floor miles in front, the band in the back. Donnie comes out and warmly welcomes everyone. Next, Des McAnuff reads a heartfelt letter from Pete Townshend, who apologizes for not being able to be there, but sends his best. The concert hasn’t even begun yet, and already the atmosphere is so charged and electric that it could have lit up 52nd Street from east to west.

Then, the band starts the melodic, prescient overture. The cast comes onstage, one by one, everyone dressed in black. It’s truly a thrilling moment, the first of so many throughout the evening. And what a cast this is, a real who’s who of Broadway talent, every person looking and sounding as terrific as they did 15 years ago. Space does not allow adequate mention of each individual’s prodigious talent, but a few deserve special mention.

First and foremost, what a thrill to have two of our original Jersey Boys, Christian Hoff and Donnie Kehr, right back where they belong, front and center stage at the August Wilson. Their rollicking ‘Pinball Wizard’ (along with Anthony Barrile) brought the house down at the end of Act 1. No pinball machine needed here; these lads completely lit up the stage on their own. As Tommy’s loving, conflicted parents, Marcia Mitzman Gaven and Jonathan Dokuchitz sang with poignancy and conviction, especially in ‘I Believe My Own Eyes’. Paul Kandel’s demonic Uncle Ernie, and Anthony Barrile’s sadistic Cousin Kevin reveled in the Walker family’s dysfunction with ‘Fiddle About’ and ‘Cousin Kevin’. Cheryl Freeman shimmied, shook, and thoroughly seduced us with her terrific ‘Acid Queen’. We too were ready to follow her down a path of destruction!

The title character was played by two mesmerizing performers who melded seamlessly into Tommy’s psyche and being. David Bologna (one of Broadway’s Billy Elliot’s), as the young deaf, dumb, and blind Tommy, spoke volumes with his poignant silence. The incredibly talented and charismatic Michael Cerveris shone as the older Tommy who finally breaks free. From ‘Amazing Journey’ to ‘Sensation’ , ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘I’m Free’, and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, Michael took us with him every step of the way. The reprise of ‘See Me, Feel Me’, a duet between both Tommy’s , was another show stopping thrill.

Although the show was mostly a concert, 3 huge screens above the stage showed ongoing simultaneous videos of the original Broadway production. This meant you could watch the exact song being sung then and now; a brilliant device. Many in the audience looked to be diehard Who and Tommy fans, singing along with every word. And what an eclectic audience this was. It was fabulous to see so many friends from our Jersey Boys family; Irene, Harry and Ken, Dee and Joe, Cynthia, Dina, Catherine and Doug, and the sublime Rick Elice. I caught a glimpse of some of those ‘other’ Jersey Boys from The Sopranos, including little Stevie. Also in attendance were Ben Stiller and his parents, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Tommy was written by Pete Townshend almost 40 yrs ago, yet its universal themes about love, tolerance, rebellion, acceptance, and redemption are as relevant today as they were then. Monday night’s show was not just great entertainment, but an uplifting reminder of the power of the human spirit. Des McAnuff’s prescient genius helped bring Tommy to Broadway in 1993, and 15 years later Donnie Kehr did it again. As Pete said in 1993 ‘When you combine rock and roll with musical theatre, you have to start telling the complete truth’. Ladies and gentleman, the truth is, all of us at the August Wilson on Monday night saw, felt, touched, and were healed by this dazzling production, right alongside Tommy.


  1. WOW!!! Pam What a magnificent review!!! I could feel your enthusiasm and total enjoyment of this production through your very descriptive words. Your passion for this event certainly came through loud and clear. Thanks for taking us all there. I am so happy for Donnie that this was such a success.

    Comment by Norene — December 19, 2008 @ 9:08 am

  2. Thanks for writing this, Pam. I unfortunately couldn’t be there, and heard a lot of bits and pieces, but this put it all together for me. Nice to see that my Staten Island neighbor Anthony Barrile is still in great form after all these years.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — December 19, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  3. Super review, Pam. I should have gone. I was penny wise and pound foolish. Regards, Charles

    Comment by Charles Alexander — December 19, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  4. Great Review Pam!
    There is no doubt about it, this was a great night of great musical theatre.
    From the moment the concert started, looking up at the screens brought back fabulous memories of a fabulous show.
    It was also an emotional evening as many fans in the audience were teary eyed at the Finale when each cast member stood up and sang with Michael Cerveris to sing “Listening to You” This was an emotional moment I will never forget.

    A very very special thank you to Donnie Kehr for giving the fans a night they will never forget and to Cori Gardner for all her hard work and who reminded us about the Tommy Reunion back in September when we saw her at the Broadway Cares Flea Market.
    It was so very very nice of all those involved with Tommy to stop and chat with us. It was such a pleasure as always to see Donnie, Michael,Anthony, Des and of course Christian. Regardless of all the post concert stage door madness, they were all so kind to stop and chat with us and to take a picture or two. As always, Christian took some time to ask us how we were. It is such a pleasure to know such a kind and genuine individual as Christian Hoff. It is an honor to know him. He is a true gentleman and a genuine friend. Monday night’s festivities were something that all the money in the world cannot buy. We are looking forward to Donnie’s next Rockers on Broadway show. (Pete who?,Roger, who?)LOL!

    Many Thanks to Sandy Hicks. Once again she managed to
    work her magic in organizing this amazing Rckers on Broadway Production.

    Have a Great Holiday All!
    Damaris & Joe Dugan

    Comment by Damaris Dugan — December 19, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

  5. Outstanding review, Pam. It was a wonderful evening and I am so fortunate to have been sitting right next to you. As always, the pre-theatre Jersey Boys dinner gathering was marvelous.

    Love, IE

    Comment by irene eizen — December 19, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  6. Golly, Pam. You’re a great writer. For everybody who wasn’t there, she nailed it. Also, from this humble scribe, I gotta tell you how great it was to see the JB fans turning out (again) for a charity night, even during these tough times. A dear friend of mine used to tell me that you can either live your life under the theory of scarcity or the theory of abundance. (I was embracing scarcity at the time). The JB Family teaches me over and over that she was right. Embracing abundance will always deliver more of what’s important… and what’s important last Monday was to see so many of you there (and for Christian to see so many of you there.) TOMMY rocked, but you guys ROCK! Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday and new year, with much love from the sublime (?!?!) Rick Elice (My mother’s gonna love that one…)

    Comment by Rick Elice — December 20, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  7. Great write-up, Pam! Looks like you covered it all, from the Rick Elice to the sublime. Next best thing to being there.

    Ever since I was a young boy, I played the rock’n'roll, but being an unsophisticated California native growing up three thousand miles from the Great White Way, I never saw the Broadway production of Tommy. But based on your write-up, I wish I could have seen it then – and now.

    Comment by stubbleyou — December 20, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  8. Pam, Thank you for putting into words the feelings I’ve been having since Monday night! It’s an experience I won’t soon forget. I’m listening to the original soundtrack right now and marveling at how, 15 years later, it’s almost identical to what we heard at the concert.

    I admit that I wanted to see the show mainly to see Christian, since I wouldn’t be seeing him in Pal Joey. But the entire cast was phenonmenal. And I’m so glad my husband and I chose to “embrace abundance”! What an amazing experience!

    It was great to meet so many of you before the show, and a great treat to meet Rick Elice – I’d heard from all of you what a wonderful man he is, and you were so right! And to top it all off, speaking with Christian afterwards made everything perfect. He looked great, sounded great, and even showed us he’s still got the moves!!! (His and Donnie’s one minute of dancing brought the house down, but did anyone else notice that the rest of the cast looked surprised?)

    Another great time at the August Wilson!

    Comment by Catherine — December 20, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

  9. Pam

    Wow – I am very jealous – sounded awesome. What a great write-up – I could feel the passion and the energy of that deaf dumb and blind kid who sure played a mean Pinball!

    As a long time WHO fan, you brought back great memories with your write-up. Also a tear jerker when you described the reading of a note from Pete Townsend, who looks to be in great shape (in his 60s and cranking out the windmills and hits from decades ago!) when we saw the WHO a few months ago in Boston.

    We look forward to seeing Jersey Boys with you in Boston this summer.

    Brad (Pam’s brother)

    Comment by Brad Singer — December 22, 2008 @ 11:32 am

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