Ken Russell’s adaptation of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” is surreal, vivid, out of this world, and incredibly phantasmagorical. It’s everything you’d expect from Russell, and “Tommy” is every bit as unusual and mind blowing as the original rock opera is. What can you expect from a story about a young boy stricken deaf, dumb, and blind by his uncle Frank and mother Nora. With an irreversible disability, Tommy is left without the sensation to feel, or understand, or comprehend most things, so he’s a victim to everyone in his life, most of who are predators and sadistic monsters. Eventually Tommy becomes something of a deity when he gains the ability to sense certain elements of his environment, including the game of pinball.
Director Russell keeps true to the seventies spirit while also adding a bit of funky sixties flair, casting Ann Margret and Oliver Reed in the crucial roles of Frank and Nora. The various members of the The Who maintain their individual roles, including Roger Daltry, who is the wide eyed and blond locked Tommy. “Tommy” is sprinkled with a ton of wonderful cast members and performers, all of whom blast off the screen, performing some of the rock opera’s best numbers. Eric Clapton is funky as a preacher who attempts to heal Tommy, Paul Nicholas is excellent as the evil “Cousin Kevin” who delights in torturing Tommy while Frank and Nora are away, and there’s Tina Turner as the Acid Queen. “Acid Queen” is easily my favorite tune of the entire opera, as recurring collaborator Tina Turner dives head first in to the role of the prostitute “The Acid Queen.”
Turner as the insidious but alluring escort offers Tommy his first comprehension of pleasure involving a lot of drugs, and a lot of sex. It’s also pretty incredible to hear Tina Turner blast her trademark pipes to the guitars of Pete Townshend and bass of John Entwistle. There’s really no mistaking their music, and forms in to a pretty awesome amalgam and unique turn of events for young Tommy. Though most people prefer “Pinball Wizard,” as performed by Elton John here, there are so many better tunes by the Who, all of which are compelling and raucous. Director Russell’s gaudy and overly extravagant direction matches The Who’s wonky and unusual rock opera that feels like a drug trip from the moment Tommy is born. “Tommy” is considered the quintessential rock opera, and it’s most definitely a musical gem with the Who and everyone in the cast at their best.