‘The Who’s Tommy’ opening this weekend

Photo courtesy Jeff Laydon
The three versions of Tommy appearing in the upcoming Thingamajig Theatre Company production of the classic rock opera, “The Who’s Tommy.” From bottom, Gabriel Gonzales (as 4-year-old Tommy), Christian Gonzales (as 10-year-old Tommy) and Trevor Brown (as adult Tommy). The theater will host two opening night performances, tomorrow night, Friday, June 14, and the following night, Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

By Bill Hudson
Special to The PREVIEW
Theater director/choreographer Pia Wyatt sat back in a wicker chair, soaking up the sun on the front porch of the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and taking a momentary break from Thingamajig Theatre Company’s hectic rehearsal schedule — in this case, a rehearsal for “The Who’s Tommy,” one of the six productions that will be staged this summer as part of Thingamajig’s ambitious 2019 summer season. She was recalling the 1975 Ken Russell movie version of “Tommy” that she’d seen as a young child, and feeling disturbed by the story and imagery.
“I remember when the movie came out, my parents were watching it late at night and I snuck out of my bed to be able to watch it. And I was scared to death by it.
“And now, having watched the movie many years later, I’m looking back and thinking, ‘Why was I scared?’ As a little kid, when you think about Elton John and Tina Turner and all those crazies in the movie, it was a little freaky.
“But the Broadway musical is different from the movie. And when Tim and Laura [Moore] asked me if I wanted to come back this summer and direct ‘The Who’s Tommy,’ I said, sure, great.
“And then I had like a flashback of being 7 or 8 years old and being scared to death of it.”
She smiled. “And I remember somebody saying to me once, if you’re scared of something, you should probably do it.”
Tomorrow night, Friday, June 14, Thingamajig Theatre Company will open its summer 2019 production of “The Who’s Tommy,” based on the script and music created in 1992 for the La Jolla Playhouse that subsequently played a successful two-year run on Broadway in 1993 and 1994.
The Pagosa Springs version of the rock opera will feature the 16 members of Thingamajig’s summer repertory company, plus special appearances by Gabriel Gonzales (as the 4-year-old Tommy) and Christian Gonzales (as the 10-year-old Tommy). Other featured performers include Trevor Brown as Tommy; Danielle Poznanovic as Mrs. Walker; Steven Sitzman as Mr. Walker; Tommy Paduano as Uncle Eddie; Caleb Michael as Cousin Kevin; and Bailey Claffey as The Gypsy.
A second opening night performance will be held on Saturday, June 15, and like the Friday showing, will feature a talk-back session with the cast and crew after the show.
Wyatt continued: “It will be interesting for our Thingamajig patrons to come and see this show, because many of them are old enough to have listened to the album when it first came out, back in 1969, they may have seen the movie … but in this version, we have two younger Tommys who are the main focus [during the first part of the story]. One is 4 years old, and one is 10 years old.
“And we’re lucky, this summer, to have two actors in the company who are married — Perry Davis Harper and Amelia Harper — and who have five children, including a 4-year-old son and his older brother. So, these two boys get the opportunity to act with a professional theater company for the entire summer. And the crazy thing is, the actor who plays our adult Tommy — Trevor Brown — is one of my students from Northwestern State University and he looks identical to these two boys.
“I love the way the world works like that.”
In a 1992 interview with reporter Michael Walker, written for the Los Angeles Times, songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend was discussing an upcoming theatrical opening of “Tommy” at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. Townshend was collaborating with noted theater director Des McAnuff on a new production of The Who’s iconic rock opera, scheduled to open in a few short days at La Jolla. McAnuff and Townshend had spent the previous year creating a new interpretation of the 1969 concept album of the same name.
Townshend’s groundbreaking rock opera had been performed by entities ranging from the London Symphony Orchestra, to the Seattle Opera, to high school marching bands. Russell had created a ostentatious film adaptation in 1975, with Townshend’s participation; the film had included entertainment celebrities like John, Turner, Ann-Margaret and Eric Clapton.
But although theater companies big and small had mounted stage productions of “Tommy” over the years, Townshend had never been directly involved with any of them. In the process of rethinking the semi-autobiographical, album-length composition from 1969, McAnuff and Townshend decided to re-write the story’s conclusion to give the theater audience a clear and satisfying ending — something that had been largely absent from the original concept album.
In the LA Times interview, Townshend commented on the new ending.
“Drama is about giving people temporary respite from the difficulties and joys of living. I’m not pretending here that what ‘Tommy’ can do is what I dreamt both rock and ‘Tommy’ could do in the ‘60s, which was to raise people up.
“I actually believed that. I think that was a mistake, and I learned that lesson quite quickly. I think we all did, didn’t we?”
Was that truly a mistake? Or can a rock opera, about a traumatized child who later gets mistaken for some kind of True Messiah, truly lift people up?
Wyatt said, “So I was talking with Nanette [Cheffers, Thingamajig costume designer] and asking her, ‘What is it about this story, that we care about this poor kid?’ And because I’m involved in education — I teach at a university — I always want the audience to learn something, to be somehow changed by a theater production. And we had a really long conversation about it, and we came to the conclusion that ‘Tommy’ is ultimately about forgiveness.”
And also, perhaps, about “giving it all you’ve got.”
“The other thing that’s really demanding is that ‘Tommy’ is a rock musical — hard-hitting, heavy, in-your-face. And that’s tough on the actors’ voices,” Wyatt continued. “And the cast is performing ‘Mamma Mia!’ this afternoon. And they performed ‘Ring of Fire’ last night. So it’s a lot and it’s demanding — and I think everyone would say, there’s no place they’d rather be than right here, doing this show.”
For tickets and more information, visit pagosacenter.org or call the box office at 731-SHOW (7469).
Thingamajig Theatre Company is an award-winning professional nonprofit 501(c)(3) theater in residence within the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. Its talented actors, directors and designers come from across the U.S. and around the world to produce musicals, comedies and dramas year-round.

This story was posted on June 13, 2019.