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The Who’s Tommy: The Rock Opera review – rock classic ‘lights up Blackpool’s Illuminations season’

Joe McElderry and cast in The Who’s Tommy: The Rock Opera at Blackpool Opera House. Photo: Dave Nelson Joe McElderry and cast in The Who’s Tommy: The Rock Opera at Blackpool Opera House. Photo: Dave Nelson
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As far as a musical about a deaf, dumb and blind kid goes, this latest version of the pioneering rock opera takes some beating.

It’s hard to believe that The Who’s original Tommy album was released 46 years ago and that this production celebrates the 40th anniversary of director Ken Russell’s memorable if somewhat overblown film version.

Pete Townshend’s music and lyrics are as powerful and commercial as ever and with Des McAnuff’s early 1990s calming collaboration on the book, the result is a timeless slice of fast-moving theatre.

The subjects of murder, child abuse and bullying are no less disturbing than they were when the album first charted – Tony Bayliss as wicked Uncle Ernie singing Fiddle About is truly creepy – but they are dealt with and despatched speedily rather than dwelt upon.

After an unavoidably slow start (he has to literally grow into the role) the evening belongs to 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry. His isn’t the strongest voice around but it’s very capable and he is completely believable as the impaired pinball wizard-turned-reluctant rock star and prophet.

Director Paul Nicholas played the evil and opportunist Cousin Kevin in the 1975 film but distances boy band member Antony Costa so far from that original interpretation he’s almost in Saturday Night Fever. He’s added a couple of good touches though and certainly keeps the energy level high.

The mainly young cast makes this version its own, aided by superb sound and light, an excellent live band and Melanie Bright’s sexy and sassy cameo Acid Queen Gypsy.

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Tommy lights up Blackpool’s Illuminations season