After opening last week, The Who's "Tommy" continues to hit the stage this weekend. The production is based on The Who's 1969 Grammy-winning album "Tommy," the first musical work billed as a rock opera.
It's the story of a boy gone deaf, mute and blind after witnessing a traumatic event. Tommy is abused in a variety of ways by various people, remaining catatonic through it all. He becomes famous for his ability as a Pinball Wizard. As the song goes, he "ain't got no distractions, can't hear no buzzers and bells/Don't see no lights a flashin', plays by sense of smell."
Van Horn Ely produced the show with Jeff Woods and musical director Steven Alvarez.
"I always wanted to do 'Tommy,' ever since I first heard about it," Ely wrote in an email, explaining that he jumped at the chance when Alvarez approached him about doing the show.
"I love the darker, grittier real-life elements of the story's trial by fire," Ely continued. "I was a huge fan of The Who since I was a kid, and I learned to play guitar and sing because I wanted that freedom, that power that Roger Daltrey, The Doors' Jim Morrison and the like seemed to have when they performed."
Ely's career in theater spans 38 years. He was a member of the Alaska improv comedy troupe The End Zone Players, and over the decades has toured with "Pump Boys and Dinettes," directed a version of "Hair" and performed in local productions of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Cabaret" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"Most of my roles have been edgier, rock-oriented musicals," he said.
He commended Alvarez's musical direction of the production's 22 actors and six musicians. "It was one of the more difficult scores I have ever been involved with," said Ely. "We've had wonderful surprises with the extraordinary level of vocal talent in this show, from our adult Tommy (the smooth and powerful Leo Grinberg), to our two child actors playing younger Tommys, Gabriel Alvarez and D'Artagnan Moonin."
The producer had high praise for the show's choreography and the performers who pulled it off. "Leslie Kimiko Ward choreographed a dynamic, high-energy, thematically in-step program," said Ely. "We have some very athletic dancer/actor/singers who execute Leslie's choreography with incredibly sexy energy."
The production features a special-effects-laden, fluorescent set with black lights, videos, lasers and a pinball playing field that glows in the dark. The audio-visual portion -- which Ely said adds a "sophisticated multimedia visual commentary to the show" -- was designed by Hope Community Resource media director Brad Swenson.
Director Jessica Jacob's own touch colors the production, adding what Ely called "a deep insight into a very dark tale in a way that doesn't drag one down."
The results are an ambitious production, and Ely is satisfied with the result.
"It is our dream and goal to raise the bar for locally produced, professional theater."
Check out award-winning 'Tommy' by The Who