SOUTH PORTLAND – Unless they have access to a retro rec room, many younger folks today may never have “played the silver ball.” Pinball has been replaced by video and cyber games. But the idea of somehow finding a way, while at the controls of a game, to move beyond adolescent hell still hits home.

The Portland Players have opened a production of “The Who’s Tommy,” an award-winning Broadway musical based on Pete Townshend’s 1969 rock opera.

The instrumental parts, played by a good live quintet that unfortunately remains offstage, are as powerful as ever. At Friday’s opening performance, the vocals occasionally suffered, both as music and as storytelling, from stark variations in dynamics between miked and unmiked performers. But, overall, this is an entertaining show with several stellar moments.

The story concerns a youngster who witnesses a murder within his family and is so traumatized that he becomes deaf, mute and blind. After incidents of abuse and bullying, Tommy’s road to healing begins when he somehow masters the art of pinball and is thrust into a fantastic world of weird doctors, weirder preachers, seductive Acid Queens and more.

Brian McAloon takes the lead role as the mature Tommy who, in the first act, narrates what is happening to his younger self, played by William Pearson.

The familiar refrain of “See Me, Feel Me” sets the tone for the sensitive side of the story while “Sensation” gives McAloon a chance to dial it up, singing atop a pinball machine while surrounded by a spirited ensemble.

Although there is not a lot of dance in the show, what there is was often quite good Friday night, with styles matching up with the various periods depicted in the story.

Tommy finds his voice in the second act with “I’m Free,” giving McAloon a chance to assert his character’s newfound strength. “Pinball Wizard” secures his identity before he’s finally brought into balance in rousing ensemble renditions of “Listening To You” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Melissa Libby and Schuyler White had some nice moments as Tommy’s parents, as did Chris Foulke, Eileen Hanley, Joe Swenson and Celeste Green in featured roles.

Director Michael Donovan (who also shared choreographer duties with Logan Rausch), music director Rebekkah Willey and a large cast and crew have combined efforts for a show which is, as they used to say, a real trip.


Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.