With a Union Jack painted in a Day-Glo mod swagger across the floor of 2nd Street Theater and a pinball machine poised in the far corner, director Sandy Klein and musical director Stan Roach are bringing The Who's rock opera, Tommy, to town.
I sat in on a rehearsal of the cast and band last week, and from the first notes of the overture I was hooked. As a long-time Who fan who recently saw Roger Daltry perform Tommy in L.A., I was immediately transported by the band to the world inhabited by a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes first a pinball wizard, then a messiah. The Who's Tommy is known as the first rock opera. It spawned a multigenerational fan base drawn to the stunning rock God-ness of Daltry coupled with Pete Townsend's lyrics, which pitch and yaw between the mystical romanticism of youth and the acerbic viewpoint of the quintessential outsider.
The movie version of Tommy debuted in 1975.
"I was eleven when the movie came out," Klein says. "I grew up on all that British Invasion music."
Tommy made it to Bend after a discussion between Klein and co-director Maralyn Thoma, who performed in an L.A. production of Tommy in the '70s.
"We started asking people 'what if?' and just like Evil Dead," Klein says, "there obviously is a huge fan base."
Klein says it wasn't easy getting the production off the ground.
"I knew Tommy was going to be a huge undertaking," says Klein.
Roach said there are 36 separate musical pieces in this production as he watched over the near pitch-perfect band while Klein cheered on the cast as they trilled and rocked through each song.
The rehearsal night was buzzing with frenetic energy. Rachel Deegan sashayed across the stage in belly dancing garb while Corey McEuin, as Cousin Kevin, practiced a Cockney accent and Tim Pflum, as everyone's favorite pederast Uncle Ernie, sang the song "Fiddle About" then jammed on harmonica with the band.
Highlights of the production include actor David DaCosta, in the roll of Tommy's father, Captain Walker, who found out about the audition by reading a craigslist ad in Boston before moving out west. Roach said DaCosta is a true professional who has played the character twice before. As the Acid Queen, Rachel Deegan charged the rehearsal by roiling her body like a dancing gypsy across the stage. Her voice, a cross between Janis Joplin in her "Down on Me" days and Stevie Nicks around her "Gold Dust Woman" period, will ignite the audience when this production debuts.
Then there is the casting of the all-important Tommy. How does one find an actor who can emulate the rock god-ness of Roger Daltry? Easy, have the technical director try out.
"Joe Reynolds was our sleeper. He is a music major at COCC. He came to auditions last, sang a couple lines and we liked what we heard, says Klein."
Admittedly, I first saw the movie version of Tommy at a pivotal point in my development. When Roger Daltry ran across that beach in all his shirtless blonde glory, I gave up Nine Inch Nails for classic rock, but Reynolds, younger, more earnest in his 2nd Street Theater debut, brings conviction to his solo songs, belting out lyrics like, "I'm free... and freedom tastes of reality," with just enough operatic boast and brag, fists pumping toward the sky, to propel the musical journey forward. I can't wait to see how the production comes together with the addition of lighting and multimedia touches, including rumors of vintage war footage projected behind the stage and a hang glider suspended from the ceiling.
"Luck doesn't come close to describing how we ended up with such a terrific band and cast, not to mention all the people working hard behind the scenes to make it happen," Klein says, excited about opening night. "We are going to rock 2 nd Street Theater off its foundation."
7:30pm, January 13-14, 18-21, 25-28. 3pm, January 15, 22. $20/reserved
tickets (plus service fee) online through www.2ndstreetheater.com
or $22 at the door.