NEW YORK (Variety) - Billed not as a Who reunion but a performance by its surviving principals Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, the current version of »Quadrophenia« mixes a large band, narration, illustrative videos and somewhat quizzical »guest stars« Billy Idol and Gary Glitter.
»Quadrophenia« has always been the most difficult work in the Who's canon. Musically intricate -- Townshend establishes four major themes variously representing the lead character's four distinct personalities, the four original members of the Who and the four elements being just the tip -- »Quadrophenia« sports a relatively simple storyline that occasionally rushes onto tangents.
Basically, it's the story of mod teen Jimmy, who in a brief period loses his home, girlfriend, motor scooter and faith in his lifestyle, not to mention society at large. Grandly ambitious, and arguably the best-performed and produced Who album, »Quadrophenia« has forever been bogged down live by Townshend's insistence on describing the story to fans: the original 1973 tour was marked by long-winded explanations.
That problem remained in this production: actor Phil Daniels, who played Jimmy in the fine 1979 »Quadrophenia« film, read narration between nearly every song that was mercifully brief if still momentum-sapping. As in '73, the crowd wanted, first and foremost, to rock.
At 51, Daltrey has lost some of his range, steering clear of many of the high notes and apparently running out of gas toward the end before rallying for a spine-tingling »Love, Reign O'er Me.«
Townshend stuck with acoustic guitar and was notable mainly while exhibiting his famed wrists of rubber on a solo »Drowned« and trading vocals with Daltrey on a fiery »Helpless Dancer.« Entwistle characteristically stayed well in the back, delivering a thumping bass solo during a roof-raising take on »5:15.«
Glitter made a perfectly buffoonish rocker, while Idol appeared as a Sting clone, assaying the same role played by the latter in the film -- Ace Face, the top mod who is exposed as nothing grander than a bellboy. The juxtaposition of the four main vocalists during a rousing »I've Had Enough« was nearly brilliant, while Idol's »Bellboy,« originally Keith Moon's singing showcase, was adequate.
A 30-minute encore was highlighted by mostly acoustic versions of »Behind Blue Eyes« and the inevitable »Won't Get Fooled Again,« as well as a pleasantly surprising »Magic Bus.« Apparently a tuneup for the inevitable Broadway production, »Quadrophenia« nevertheless retains much of its nimble, muscular brilliance. More to the point, perhaps, is the fact that there's clearly life yet in this particular brand of rockers.
Presented by Metropolitan Entertainment.
Band: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Zak Starkey, Simon Townshend, John »Rabbit« Bundrick, Phil Daniels, Gary Glitter, Billy Idol.
Opened and reviewed July 16, 1996; runs through July 22.