Opera and Shakespeare 

A pinball wizard in Park City and a jealous Moor at Pioneer Theatre Company

The Who’s Tommy
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In 1969, The Who invented the genre of “rock opera” with Tommy. This month at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, The Who’s Tommy, as it is billed, gives us the opera'but somehow forgets to rock.

I started to worry when I saw the synth drums under the riser on stage. My fears were confirmed during the overture. It just wasn’t loud enough. Neither the band nor the cast brought the power needed to instantly overwhelm the audience and drag them into this surreal experiment. My disbelief was not suspended.

The show suffered from lack of confidence and energy throughout. Geoffrey Hemingway, who plays Tommy, was constantly either reaching for notes or compensating with extra ones. The chorus executed dance moves with varying degrees of success. At one point, a group of chorus “lads” started a chant of “Oi! Oi! Oi!” during a scene transition, only to let it peter out like a pity clap. Several times, I was frustrated to see half a dozen or more actors onstage but, due to some misguided directorial choice, only half of them actually sang. Finally, at the climax of the show, the band and cast ramped up to the point from which they should have started, but it was just too late to impress.

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The exception in all this was Kenneth Wayne as the evil Uncle Ernie. His numbers'“Fiddle About” and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”'were the best of the show, thanks to the fact that Wayne had the only truly “rock” voice in the cast. His force and charisma easily carried the songs without any outside help.

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With almost no moments of dialogue allowing rest, The Who’s Tommy requires a full effort by the cast in order to build and maintain momentum. Unfortunately, the Egyptian Theatre Company wasn’t able to deliver and left me to muse on whether I wouldn’t be having more fun playing pinball in the lobby instead. 'RT

Othello
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Actors relish playing Shakespeare, and actors relish playing villains. So when they get a chance at playing a Shakespearean villain'and the Bard didn’t write all that many of them'it’s a good idea to take full advantage of the opportunity.

That’s precisely what R. Ward Duffy does as Iago in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Othello. His is the juicy role of the Venetian soldier who commits himself to bringing down a superior officer'the Moor Othello (Jonathan Earl Peck)'who passed him over for promotion. Thus begins a complex scheme in which Iago persuades Othello that the Moor’s new wife Desdemona (Jenny Mercein) is having an affair with Othello’s lieutenant, Michael Cassio (Jeremiah Wiggins).

Othello himself is one of Shakespeare’s trickier characters'his rapid disintegration from nobility into homicidal jealousy only barely is presaged in the text'but Peck does a solid job of commanding the stage. Granted, his sheer physical presence helps a lot. Peck towers over most of his co-stars, yet he also conveys a man with a tormented past for whom honor has become the only constant. Jenny Mercein’s Desdemona isn’t quite as effective, particularly during the deathbed sequence when she comes off more puzzled than in genuine fear of her life. Yet she gets one of the production’s most haunting moments, singing a quiet, mournful tune in eerie anticipation of her imminent murder.

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The show, however, truly belongs to Duffy. Actors generally interpret Iago with a seething hatred for Othello, the devious plotting merely a necessary process for achieving his revenge. Duffy and director Gavin Cameron-Webb opt for a reading that focuses on the savage pleasure Iago takes in manipulating those around him. Playing his monologues with a grin that suggests how much he delights in exercising by other means the power Othello denied him, Duffy delivers a performance that gives the entire production a wicked kick. 'SR

THE WHO’S TOMMY
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Egyptian Theatre Company
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328 Main
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Park City
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Through March 10
t
435-649-9371

OTHELLO
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Pioneer Theatre Company
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300 S. 1400 East
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Through March 3
t
581-6961

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About The Author

Rob Tennant

Bio:
Rob Tennant is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

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