As the lights dim and fog rises inside Deal Park, NJ’s Axelrod PAC auditorium this Sunday, September 8, 2019 afternoon, audience members can’t help but notice a collection of luminous TV monitors lining the edge of the stage. Whereas some have the words, “See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me, Heal Me,” written on them, others show the gleaming color blocks of a television station which has gone off the air.
Various raised platforms on the stage create smaller performing spaces where a myriad of guitars — acoustic, electric, and bass — can be seen, along with amps and keyboards, microphones, assorted wind instruments, a grand piano, and — located on the extreme left — an actual pinball machine.
The smell of incense filters out over the audience and the crowd sees the stage swarm with musicians and hears a count off of “1–2–3–4” as lights flash and psychedelic phosphorescent colors fill the television screens.
It is here that the Axelrod’s presentation of Tommy: A 50th Anniversary Concert of The Who’s Rock Opera begins. The show is jointly produced by Axelrod’s CEO Jess Levy, Artistic Director Andrew DePrisco, and “soul sensation” Remember Jones — aka Anthony D’Amato — who stars in the role of Tommy.
The wall of sound coming from the stage beckons the audience back to 1969 as a French horn solo is featured on the famous “Overture” from The Who’s Tommy. Eight voices join the symphony of sound coming from the dynamic 11-piece band. The music fills the auditorium as Remember Jones takes the stage and conducts the band while audience members bop their heads in rhythm to the musical explosion coming from the stage.
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As the music throbs, a visual artist, Jupiter, can been seen in front of a video camera creating the hallucinogenic images projected on the TV screens while rhythmically manipulating a tray of colored solution as if she is playing a percussion instrument.
The lights fade as guitarist Jeremy Korpas is featured center stage and Remember Jones re-enters to applause singing, “It’s a Boy.”
The lights focus on Remember Jones who sets the stage for tonight’s story with “1921,” his powerful and soulful voice telling the story of a boy, Tommy, whose senses shut down after experiencing a shocking event — the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, Captain Walker — making Tommy deaf, dumb, and blind to the external world.
Audience members sing along on the famous “You didn’t hear it/You didn’t see it/You never heard it, not a word of it” lyric which is performed by Jones and a complement of a dozen or more musicians.
Trumpeter Matt Salazar and drummer Joe Bellia are featured on “Amazing Journey” which is sung by Jones in his clear crisp vocal style as he continues to expand Tommy’s story. While Jones explains how Tommy begins to develop a fascinating inner psychological life on his “amazing journey,” lights pulse to the rhythm as they illuminate the entranced crowd.
Jones also handles the lead on “Christmas” as a dozen singers back him in layered vocal lines — some legato, some staccato — which add to the appeal of the performance. It is here the audience first hears the famous “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” refrain which elicits hoots, hollers, and avid applause from the crowd.
Dressed in a black leather jacket and boots, Daimon Santa Maria enters dancing and singing “Cousin Kevin” in his strong tenor voice.
Taking out a flute from his backpack like an arrow from a quill, Santa Maria channels Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson singing into his flute as he plays.
Santa Maria’s powerful voice details all of the cruel things he will do to Tommy once the pair is alone.
The crowd rewards Santa Maria with cheers for his dramatic performance.
Entering like a monster as red lights flash, Lance Larson as Uncle Ernie sings “Fiddle About.” With his menacing demeanor, Ernie reveals his sadistic molestation of Tommy.
Horns welcome talented singer/guitarist Billy Walton — The Hawker — as his raspy, gravelly voice shines on “Eyesight to the Blind.” Punctuating his vocal with a screaming electric guitar solo, the band and vocalists support his top-notch performance.
Baritone saxophonist Pat Higgins and trombonist Ian Gray pretend to blow The Hawker off the stage, at which point Walton comes down into the audience and takes a seat with his guitar before walking around the auditorium playing it and eventually returning to the stage.
The packed house claps along to the irresistible beat as the number continues to build and lights flash pulsating a rainbow of colors.
JaQuita May as “The Acid Queen” enters dramatically, dancing wildly as her fringed costume glitters while she sings.
Her cape and long hair flow as she writhes to the rocking music crooning, “I’m the gypsy/The Acid Queen/Pay before we start/The gypsy/I’m guaranteed/To tear your soul apart.”
Loose and free, May enchants the…