When about twenty years ago I saw the Broadway touring production of The Who’s Tommy, after countless spins of the album and views of the movie, something strange happened. I finally understood the story. As I clicked play on Townshend’s newest version of his other rock opera, the legendary tale of teenage angst Quadrophenia, I wasn’t worried about understanding the story, but more so about the story being ruined. Unlike Tommy, which was a rough and more sublime story in its first go round, Quadrophenia was polished and pristine, a perfect telling. Would this version orchestrated by Rachel Fuller and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra be able to hold the reigns on the anger and emotionally charged original?
Musically, there is no question of the grandiosity of this production. Conductor Robert Zeigler and the Royal Phil seamlessly translate the production into something grand and borderline haunting throughout. True standout moments abound, most notably in the instrumental pieces of Quadrophenia and The Rock, as well as the epic finishing piece Love Reign O’er Me, but these were to be expected. Where it surprised me was in the more sublime tracks like Cut My Hair and Helpless Dancer, the gang was really able to hold on to the initial insecurities and hesitant fears that hide behind these tracks, what to me was always the real heart of the album. The one drawback to the classical treatment of the album is the loss of the power rhythm combo of Entwistle and Moon. The orchestration really doesn’t adapt that aspect of the music, and it certainly loses it’s edginess, a key element in getting the heart of the message across.
Vocally they have accomplished tenor Alfie Boe to handle the main character of Jimmy, with Pete Townshend, Billy Idol, and Phil Daniels handling various other vocal parts. Simply stated, Boe nails this part. Though a bit of the humanity was lost in his translation of the part overall (though maybe that’s just me getting used to Daltrey not singing it), his absolutely viscous delivery of the power aspects can make any music lover stop and pay respect. His delivery of the line “Maybe something stronger can really hold me down” in Dr. Jimmy will forever give me chills, and if you aren’t moved by his translation of Love Reign O’er Me, just give up listening to music, it ain’t your thing man.
It’s so hard to be impartial on something as legendary as Quadrophenia, especially when the original is hardwired into my soul, but fortunately souls are designed with a certain amount of plasticity. If Jimmy’s can handle the four intense personalities displayed in Quadrophenia, mine can handle another version of the masterpiece, and I do believe that those involved have paid the proper respects to the album, and given us one more version to stand the test of time.