48.2 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Rock opera Tommy to open with a bang this Thursday

Rock band The Who came out with Tommy in 1969, a rock opera concept album about a boy who is deafened and blinded after witnessing a murder. Tommy grows up to become a pinball wizard and a rock star.

Unlike any other album in its time, Tommy became revolutionary once again when it was brought to the Broadway stage in the 1990s, and started the trend of rock musicals that we are familiar with today.

Granada Artist-in-Resident Mindy Cooper, who worked on the original Broadway production assistant to the choreographer, has directed a version of Tommy adapted for the UC Davis stage. Cooper believed the opera’s thematic elements would resonate with students.

“I knew the nature of [Tommy] was young and very thought-provoking. Pete Townshend wrote it as a cathartic experience from his troubled childhood. He takes a kid who is traumatized at four years old and then abused by family members and family friends, so it’s not an easy kind of digested work. But I thought for this campus it would be a good production in terms of how thought-provoking it is,” she said.

The heavier themes and characters have been a fun challenge for Davis students as they’ve learned how to embody their characters. dramatic arts major Malia Abayon has found this to be an especially enlightening experience.

“I play the Gypsy/Acid Queen, a prostitute that has the power to sexually awaken Tommy. This character allows me to embrace a different, darker side of myself ,” Abayon said. “The Acid Queen is all about confidence, which I have found is hard for me to embrace because I am a very self-conscious person. As the Acid Queen, Mindy has to constantly remind me to walk slow and plant myself. I adopted the habit of walking really slow through the quad on campus, eyeing everyone around me [to help build confidence].”

Although the performance contains a number of heavy themes, Cooper says there’s a major message she hopes people will take away from the musical.

“We’re going to take the audience on a journey,” Cooper said. “The show, in my opinion, has a very strong message about rebirth and second chances, and I hope the audience takes that away with them. The evening as a whole really catapults us into hope for the future.”

With themes so pertinent to young people, Cooper gave the actors, all of whom are UC Davis students, a lot of freedom in morphing their characters.

“I like to let actors have a lot of input, and I love smart, opinionated actors,” Cooper said. “I like to see where the actor takes things, and oftentimes they take them to very interesting places. This version is uniquely theirs; they’ve created it.”

As a rock opera, Tommy is not your average musical. It has only approximately twenty lines of dialogue, relying instead on the lyrics to tell the story.

For Chris McCoy, a sophomore performance studies Ph.D. candidate playing Captain Walker, Tommy’s father, this reliance on music has been an interesting component in developing his character.

“The music is as much a character as any of the bodies on stage,” McCoy said. “While the story uses a linear plot progression, it jumps years in favor of focusing on moments of heightened emotion, even stemming into almost allegorical expression. I took as many cues about my character’s emotional state from the music as I did from the lyrics.”

According to Cooper, the rock opera format makes Tommy play out more like a rock concert with a story line, with one song ending and another song beginning. The possibilities of such a unique format excited Cooper as a director.

“I’m usually not into playing to an audience with a piece, but this one I am. I kind of want to blow the roof off the joint. I’d also like to get people to come see a show that wouldn’t otherwise see a musical and build a whole new audience for theatre,” she said.

For music director Graham Sobelman, the rock music was especially exciting for the band and he promises that the music offers an exciting variation.

“The band really gets to play the score with some verve – and since it’s rock music, there is a little bit more freedom in the way we perform it,” Sobelman said. “But also, there are some really well orchestrated sections. The French horn has some beautiful melodies and the guitar parts just scorch.”

Cooper promises the same kind of variation in the types of songs that will be performed.

“The genres of songs performed go across the boards. There are some big anthem songs, some ballads and duets, some gut-wrenching solos, there’s something for everyone,” she said.

Along with show-stopping tunes, Cooper will be utilizing multimedia video to further add to the story and aid the visual aspect of the production.

“I’m using film, video, still images, and live feed,” Cooper said. “There’s a film that opens the show that’s the overture and the prologue [that tells] the backstory. I used still imagery and video to set the tone of where we are, in lieuew of, say, trucking a lot of scenery. The live feed is used when Tommy becomes a big rock star and we follow him around with a camera.”

With video, huge rock song productions, and dramatic acting and costumes, McCoy believes Tommy will be one of UC Davis’ biggest theater productions yet.

“Not only does the show contain the expected singing, dancing, and acting aspects, but we also have an impressive mechanized set, film and live projections, numerous costume changes, and a rock band on-stage with the performers,” McCoy said. “I think audiences are going to be impressed by the spectacle while being challenged with the biting social critique written into the show.”

Tommy opens tonight night at 8 p.m. in the Main Theatre at Wright Hall and runs until Sunday. Tickets start at $18 and can be purchased online or at the Main Theatre box office on the day of the show.

ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here