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‘Tommy’ lives on vibrant night with Roger Daltrey, Cleveland Orchestra

July 9, 2018

‘Tommy’ lives on vibrant night with Roger Daltrey, Cleveland Orchestra

By MARK SATOLA

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio -- The Who’s seminal rock opera “Tommy” is 50, and longtime Who lead singer Roger Daltrey is 74, but age seems to have had little effect on either the singer or the music, as evidenced by a vibrant and stirring performance of the musical saga Sunday night at Blossom Music Center.

While we’re enumerating milestones, let us not forget Blossom’s 50th anniversary this season, and the Cleveland Orchestra, now 100 years old, which found itself in the unusual role of collaborating with Daltrey and an aggregation of top-flight players called, for this occasion, the Who Band.

In the late sixties, Who guitarist and composer Pete Townshend was at work on a series of songs about his newfound interest in Sufism when band manager Kit Lambert suggested he expand his ideas into a full-fledged narrative about a boy born during the Blitz who develops psychosomatic deafness, blindness and mutism when he witnesses a murder in his family.

After harrowing episodes in which Tommy experiences terrible abuse, he has a “Miracle Cure” and becomes a spiritual guru (“I’m a Sensation”) but is ultimately rejected by his followers (“We’re Not Gonna Take It”).

On Sunday evening, “Tommy” was presented in one go, without intermission, before a huge sellout crowd. The orchestral arrangement was by David Campbell, and featured scoring for strings, brass and percussion.

Keith Levenson conducted from an elevated podium at stage right, a tricky position, while the orchestra was arranged, a little awkwardly, around the band.

From the opening notes of the Overture, the crowd was ready to roar its approval as the thousands of boomers, teens and in-betweens had the unique experience of hearing some of their favorite numbers presented by one of the guys who brought them to life back in 1969.

Daltrey was a dynamo. His voice showed some signs of age — there is a certain huskiness to it, and high pitches are now achieved only with effort — but its power, range, and emotion are undiminished. Sunday night’s performance was the last one of the band’s tour, and perhaps because of that, there was an extra measure of energy and commitment in the performance.

The audience was plugged into that energy, cheering the hit numbers from Townshend’s through-composed score, including “See Me, Feel Me,” the pretty and poignant “Sally Simpson,” “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” and of course “Pinball Wizard.”

Joining Daltrey onstage was Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother, who sang the crucial “Pete” roles, and played creditably on acoustic and electric guitars.

The effect of the combined forces, the touring circumstances and the power of “Tommy’s” music and message made for an unforgettable experience. There must have been many a teary eye as Daltrey sang, with still-angelic feeling, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me,” a plea for understanding that runs through “Tommy” and remains relevant today.

Three encores followed — “Who Are You” from the album of the same name, a ballad from Daltrey’s upcoming solo album, and an energetic performance of “Baba O’Riley” with electric violinist Katie Jacoby.

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