BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College Theatre is putting the finishing touches on its production of the musical, The Who’s Tommy. Performances will be held on campus in Wailes Theatre from March 27-30. The performances on March 27-29 will begin at 8 p.m. while the March 30 show will be a 2 p.m. matinee.
Released by The Who in 1969, Tommy was the first musical work explicitly billed as a rock opera. A movie version was released in 1975. After being adapted for a Broadway musical nearly two decades later, it won five Tony awards in 1994. Bethany College’s production offers a modification that anchors the work in its late 1960s roots.
“Our production bears little resemblance to previous incarnations,” said director Luke Hardt, the College’s Assistant Professor of Fine Arts-Theatre. “Every director who has touched this has tried to tighten the through-line of the story. I wanted to tighten the connection between Tommy and each individual in the audience. Returning the metaphors and symbols to the psychedelic era that gave birth to them seemed a more natural way to do that. My suggestion to designer Tracie Lynn Duncan was to toss out all the stuff from the Broadway version that makes the story strictly a post-World War II British narrative and draw from the artwork of the original 1969 album.”
Duncan designed the set as a gigantic pinball machine. Her vision blends pop art, projections and Mary Quant-inspired costumes in a striking mix that augments the power of The Who’s highly-acclaimed score. The musical director is Pandel Collaros, Assistant Professor of Fine Arts-Music at Bethany. He plays guitar in the rock combo which includes Aaron Carey, Bethany College Lecturer in Fine Arts, on guitar; Amanda McCoy on bass and Matt Hayes on drums. McCoy and Hayes each hail from Coshocton, Ohio.
The story follows the life of Tommy Walker. As a four-year-old (played by Keith Hardt of Bethany), Tommy becomes blind, deaf and dumb after seeing his parents (Kari Jo Tiede of Hitchcock, S.D. and Ryan Ferrebee of West Liberty) commit manslaughter. Withdrawn from the world, he is neglected and abused — notably by his Uncle Ernie (Glenn Wright of Mattaponi, Va.) and Cousin Kevin (Evan Oslund of Oakmont, Pa.). But at the age of 10 (now played by Max Hardt of Bethany), Tommy’s inward focus produces an extraordinary ability to play pinball. As a young adult, Tommy (now played by Dave Zalenski) emerges from his inner world as a charismatic Pinball Wizard only to have the demands of his idolatrous followers transform him into an unwilling messiah.
Also lending their acting, singing and dancing talents to this event in a variety of ensemble roles are Bethany students Eli Richie of Middlebourne, W.Va.; Ally Tylka of Pittsburgh; Katie Orwig of Monongah, W.Va.; Steve Sholtas of Perryopolis, Pa.; Krystal Robinson of Moundsville, W.Va.; April O’Brien of Columbus, Ohio; Brenda Valdez of McAllen, Texas; Sarah Walter of Weirton, W.Va.; Jessly Guzman of The Bronx, N.Y.; Audrey Frank of St. Cloud, Fla.; Johnna Valenti of Burgettstown, Pa.; Maggie Soulsby of Chardon, Ohio; Ryan Darrow of Richmond, Ohio; and Jade Herbst of Granville, Ohio, who also served as student choreographer.
The stage manager is Leah Muhlheim of Richfield, Ohio with cinematic projections contributed by Justin Mackey of Pittsburgh and Bethany College Media Specialist Thom Furbee. Furbee is also the sound engineer while Cheryl Pompeo, Director of the Oglebay Institute School of Dance and Bethany College Lecturer in Fine Arts, is the choreographer. Appearing from West Liberty are Michael Hardy and Tiffany Lee, along with Rick Call from Wintersville, Ohio.
The Who’s Tommy may be inappropriate for children due to adult situations. Tickets are priced at $5 with opening night proceeds to benefit the St. John’s Home for Children. Reservations are strongly encouraged for all performances and are available by calling (304) 829-7124.