The Who’s Tommy in Concert at The Capitol Theatre

By Patsy Isenberg


That’s how the Flint Repertory Theatre’s producing artistic director Michael Lluberes described the musical “The Who’s Tommy,” which played to an almost sold-out audience and nearly brought the house down at the Capital Theatre Nov. 18 and 19.

He added in his notes from the program that the show is “an exhilarating story of hope, healing, and the human spirit. Tommy’s journey from outcast to celebrated pinball wizard is a sensory-defying, once in a lifetime theatrical experience.”

The cast of The Who’s Tommy on stage at The Capitol Theatre. (Photo source: The Flint Rep)

It’s a rock musical after all,  so the audience, many of whom appeared to be from the generation who were youths when The Who first released the 1969 album Tommy responded loudly to familiar tunes such as “Pinball Wizard.” And at least one person in the audience at Friday’s performance said they saw The Who perform at Woodstock. But for the last several years they can be heard singing the theme song, “Who AreYou?” when watching the television show CSI.  Anyway, The Who are classic Rock and Roll superstars.

The story itself might be a lot more complicated than is generally thought. At least that’s what surprised this reviewer. And there’s very little dialogue to tell the story, just the song lyrics, the choreography, and all the other visuals. The Rep’s production told the story very well.

It all began with the songs from the album, “Tommy,” now a well-loved classic from 1969.  The music and lyrics were written by The Who’s Pete Townshend with contributions by other band members, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Shortly after those songs were recorded,  Townshend collaborated with Des McAnuff for a book based on the lyrics of the those songs.

The cast of The Who’s Tommy on stage at the Capitol Theatre. (Photo source: The Flint Rep)


Townshend says “Tommy has always been a theater piece, but commissioned, conceived and written for the rock venue.” This musical has evolved artistically through the years into what The Rep presented. Townshend, guitarist for The Who, fell and broke his wrist very badly and couldn’t perform up to his prior standard and now says “… story telling is my first love. Music will always be my first medium, but in the future I feel sure that the theater is where many of my stories will begin. There’s a drama for you darlings.”

Devanand Janki, director/choreographer of the production, says, “… every time Tommy is done, it has to be reinvented. It just is that kind of show.” Janki adds, “… Tommy is a very unique perspective on trauma …” and “… for me, Tommy is about healing, which I think we all have to do constantly in the world.”

In an interview, Janki talked a lot about about diversity in theater. “For me, having been an artist of color for so long … it’s the lens I see art through and I have been inspired by so many artists, but I’ve also been frustrated by not seeing myself represented … so it has become my mission in the work I do … to try and show audiences … a different perspective …”

That is apparent in this show and, for this reviewer, welcome.

Actors George Salazar (far left), Janet Dacal (left center), Quinn Dudek (center right) and Mauricio Martinez (far right). (Photo source: The Flint Rep)

There were at least nineteen cast members, many of whom played several roles. Between the large cast and the rock music, it was clear that it wouldn’t have worked as well at The Rep’s normal Elgood Theatre. The band consisted of eight musicians including electric guitarists, drums and three keyboardists with lots of speakers, lighting, and video. And, of course, The Capitol Theatre houses a much larger audience.

Many of the actors in the show are from other parts of the country and have resumes that include roles on Broadway, television and many awards to their credit including George Salazar, Janet Dacal, Mauricio Martinez and Paul Whitty. But Jason Briggs, a very familiar face from shows at The Rep, added his excellent voice and acting experience to the roles he played in this production as well.

There also were two children in the cast. The role of Tommy as a four year old was played by Elliott Dudek, a kindergartener at Cook Elementary in Grand Blanc. He says he’s now been “bit by the theater bug.”

Dudek twins, Elliot Dudek (seated) and Quinn Dudek (standing) with actor George Salazar in The Who’s Tommy at Capitol Theatre. (Photo source: The Flint Rep)

Elliot’s older sister, Quinn, played Tommy as a ten year old. She’s a 4th grader at Mason Elementary in Grand Blanc. She fell “in love with the stage through her time in Flint Institute of Music’s Musical Theater summer camps” and made her debut with Stone Throw Theatre’s production of Peppermint Bear and the Giant Elf last Christmas.

It was truly astonishing to see how well these two young actors performed and it was smart casting to award these roles to siblings because they look quite a bit alike! 

The production itself required a large team of technicians and creatives to achieve the “explosive” level Lluberes describes.

The Who’s Tommy in Concert was sponsored by the Whiting Foundation.

Next up for The Rep is The Future is Female, a comedy, which will can be seen Feb. 3-19 next year.

EVM’s theater reviewer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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