Arts and Entertainment

TOMMY | Classic rock opera of the ’60s takes a different spin at BPA

Bainbridge Performing Arts presents “Tommy,” the classic rock opera based on the 1969 conceptual album by The Who. - Photo courtesy of BPA
Bainbridge Performing Arts presents “Tommy,” the classic rock opera based on the 1969 conceptual album by The Who.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of BPA

Over four decades it has been an album, a film and then a Broadway production.

This week, the rock opera “Tommy” will take the stage at Bainbridge Performing Arts.

“It is rock music from the beginning to end,” said director Teresa Thuman.

“It’s not your typical musical theater,” she added. “If anyone thinks that musical theater is all about musical comedy — this is an opera. It’s exciting and it’s very compelling.”

It’s not the first time “Tommy” has taken to the stage. Shortly after The Who released their fourth album by the same name — a conceptual piece about a blind, deaf and mute boy who achieves stardom — the Seattle Opera put on its own version of the story in 1971 with a performance that featured Bette Midler. Since then, the concept has traveled to a variety of stages including a Broadway production helmed by The Who’s own Pete Townsend.

“’Tommy’ is the story of a childhood trauma told through a boy who can’t see, hear or speak,” said Jesse Smith, who pays the title role of the Pinball Wizard. “Things are done to him, and when he comes out of it he is experiencing it for the first time.”

The play follows “Tommy” from a young child to an adult. Three Tommys are used to tell the tale at BPA. True Terra takes on the role of 4-year-old Tommy, while Cymbeline Brody is Tommy at 10.

It’s a unique progression — not only because the actors playing Tommy change from male, to female, and back to male, but also because Tommy evolves from a white actor as a child, and to an African American adult.

Thuman said the casting choice was made because of the immense talent available for the production, and also because it adds to the production in ways never explored before.

“I think that it’s unique to us,” Thuman said. “It’s interesting; it doesn’t change anything in the piece, but it does open some doors.”

It also helps that Smith has taken on the role once before at the Centerstage in Federal Way.

“This (version) is definitely more driven by the story than the music,” Smith said. “At the same time, the story couldn’t be told without the music. These concepts are dealt with in abstract ways,

I think music is the best ways to get them across.”

“Tommy” at BPA won’t be what many fans of its previous renditions may expect.

“They will get something very different. It’s not nearly as abstract, it’s not nearly as influenced by the world of the ‘60s,” Thuman said.

The story has been mostly known by the 1975 film boasting an all-star cast, including The Who’s singer Roger Daltrey, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Ann-Margret and more. The album was transformed into a performance seeped in the psychedelic spirit of its time.

The Bainbridge performance of Tommy will be a little more grounded, however.

“Our goal with this production has been to keep it extremely clear and concrete,” Thuman said. “I think we’ve been very successful in that.”

Wether the audience are fans of The Who, or in for a night of opera, Thuman said that they won’t be disappointed.

“It’s a wonderful rock opera,” she said. “They might want to see it multiple times.”

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