June 14, 2006
Rock Opera At Bay Street Tommy in Sag Harbor:'See Me'
Brace yourself, Bay Street The rock opera is coming to town.
That's right, the Pinball Wizard is heading to Sag Harbor in the form of The Who's Tommy, a staged musical that has its roots in Broadway and is making its way to Bay Street tomorrow for a three- week run.
"We've assembled a cast of triple threats," said director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, referring to The Who's ensemble of performers who have proven themselves within the enviable triumvirate of showbiz — singing, dancing and acting. Also, she said, "It was important to find actors who could sing rock and roll."
The music, of course, is quite possibly the production's biggest draw. Musical director Roger Butterley is working with original tunes by legendary rockers Pete Townshend, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon such as those seminal 70s anthems of rebellion, "We're Not Gonna Take It," and "I'm Free."
But don't expect a literal interpretation of the 1975 film Tommy to hit the Bay Street stage. "We wanted to more closely examine the human relationships in this story," explained Euan Morton, a Scottish actor who plays Tommy. "It's a pared-down production that's truer to The Who's musical intent." Given the intimate nature of Bay Street, whose theater seats only about 90, that much is to be expected. "The film was fun to watch," noted Milgrom-Dodge, "but our version is substantially different. Ken Russell (Tommy's director) made many wild choices that would not translate to the stage — even if I wanted them too."
During preliminary cast meetings, she urged the actors to immerse themselves in the free-fall 70s vibe of rock n' roll debauchery. "When we sat down with the cast to do the first reading, I told everyone to grab a cigarette and do a few shots of Jack Daniel's," said Milgrom-Dodge.
"I wanted them to get into the rock star mode," she explained, laughing.
Morton is already familiar with that role. In 2002, he starred in Boy George's semi-autobiographical London play Taboo, a show set in the glamorously decadent early 80s London nightlife where pop music, drugs and sex were king. The production later moved to Broadway and for his role as the flamboyant George, Morton was nominated for five theater awards, including a Tony.
When it comes to Bay Street's version of The Who's Tommy, Milgrom-Dodge promised that both rock music fans and devotees of the story of Tommy, the Pinball Wizard who ascends to super-messianic proportions after being struck blind, deaf and dumb, will come away entertained. "I'm not going to give away any secrets, but the audience will actually become part of the show," she said. "There's so much energy going on and the show never stops moving!"
Actor Mike McGowan, who plays the role of Captain Walker, said the spirit of The Who's music drives the
production, but added that the show has cross-generational appeal. "It's all about the rebellion and intensity that only rock and roll can speak to. Our version of this show may be a bit pared down due to the constraints of the venue but it's truer to The Who's musical intent."
Milgrom-Dodge, who formerly directed Hair and Once On this Island at Bay Street, agreed. "The theater is intimate-the audience is right there. The performers can really feel the energy and the thrust stage allows the action to be felt full force by the audience." She added, "I love this kind of space! I've worked in such varied venues-from 2200 seats 'in the round' to Broadway-sized prosceniums." Each, she said, presents its own challenges and opportunities.
Townshend claimed in the 70s that Tommy wasn't truly an opera as the genre is generally understood. In many ways, it's tough to categorize either the original movie or the staged musical. It's safe to say, though, that The Who's Tommy has played a unique role in capturing the public's imagination both during its run on Broadway and its regenesis at Bay Street. In the end, the story of Tommy has proved to be an enduring, if a bit eccentric, slice of popular