‘The Who’s Tommy’ premieres at Pittsburgh Playhouse

Written By Beth Turnbull, Copy Editor

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Braced to play the lead in “The Who’s Tommy,” Lamont Walker stands in the middle of a crowded dance studio with his arms outstretched, waiting for the first notes of the overture to begin playing.

The perimeter of the dance studio buzzes with actors practicing highly coordinated choreography, checking out their new silver thigh-high boots and snapping pictures of their fellow cast members when they least expect it. It’s only a rehearsal, yet the intense music, such as “Pinball Wizard,” fills the room with a vibrant energy.

“So many people would call it a rock opera; I would call it a rock epic,” Producing Director at Pittsburgh Playhouse Kim Martin said. “It really spans three decades and the story is complex. It is epic taking Tommy from age four to adulthood.”

The students are rehearsing for “The Who’s Tommy” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, which will run from Oct. 21-30 in the Rockwell Theatre.

“Tommy” is a rock musical by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff based on The Who’s 1969 iconic rock album of the same name. The edgy rock-opera is the journey of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who witnesses a murder and suffers abuse as a child. He discovers the game of pinball as a teen and becomes a sensation.

“This role is basically about a child who witnesses this traumatic event and goes into himself. He is trying to reach out to people and connect with them,” senior musical theater major Walker said.

There are several overarching themes in the explosive musical, and the narrative of journey is extremely prevalent. Tommy even sings a song titled “Amazing Journey” about his exceptional childhood as he looks upon his younger self.

“There’s such beautiful music; you don’t just feel it in your feet, or feel it in your hands, you feel it in your soul,” Mel Holley, a junior musical theatre major, who plays six different roles in the show, said. “It’s not just entertainment. Tommy is the kind of show that changes you in a subtle way. It gives you an escape.”

The story is told primarily through the music by the Who.

“It’s not just a musical; it’s an opera,” said Ron Lindblom, Artistic Director of the Playhouse. “Rock is just the genre. It’s mounting an opera with all of the challenges that come along with that.”

The show also tackles the theme of society’s obsession with celebrities. When Tommy is freed from his catatonic state, he gains a following of obsessive fans who want to be just like him, even though he was deprived of a normal life for so long.

“It made me realize how we look at famous figures in our world and how we put them at a different level than we are. It’s unnatural and you don’t realize it,” said junior musical theater major Kyley Klass, who plays Tommy’s mother Mrs. Walker.

“The Who’s Tommy” is a story about dysfunction, disability, fame and freedom, themes that many think resonate today just as strongly as they did in 1969.

“This story talks a lot about disabilities and families, and I think that it is important for us as people today to be more aware of other people’s disabilities and struggles and look out for each other,” Walker said.

“The Who’s Tommy” runs Oct. 21-30 with a preview on Oct. 20 in the Rockwell Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Pittsburgh Playhouse box office at 412-392-8000 or visiting pittsburghplayhouse.com.

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