According to Jack Wade, “Tommy” is one of the most demanding shows SUNY New Paltz has ever done.
“What’s funny about this show is that it comes off as being this trite kind of rock and roll show, but in terms of complexity, it’s one of the most complex we’ve ever done,” said Wade, the director of the show. “As they say, it’s a rock opera, so it has operatic proportions in every area. The set design, the singing and the dancing are all very big.”
“The Who’s Tommy” recently opened at McKenna Theatre on April 28, and is the final show of the year to be put on by the school’s Department of Theatre Arts. “Tommy” tells the story of a boy who is deemed “deaf, blind and dumb,” but eventually goes on to become an international superstar. However, the journey to stardom is marred with difficult trials and sadness for the main character.
“It’s a really dark, bleak story about the journey of this little boy through all sorts of trauma and we’ve really tried intentionally to make it dramatic and theatrical to provide the audience with clarity,” said Wade.
Stephen Kitsakos, the musical director for the show, said that he and Wade had been thinking about doing “Tommy” for a long time.
“Both of us grew up listening to the original album by The Who and both of us have been intrigued with the way it was adapted for the musical theatre stage,” said Kitsakos. “Jack and I have worked together on many projects… because he is an extraordinary designer as well as director, and I have a background in music theatre and rock ‘n roll, it seemed a natural fit for the two of us to work together as director and music director on this project.”
Kitsakos and Wade both agreed that this year would be the right time to put on “Tommy,” as it is described as being a “bear” of a show and it took a large amount of time and planning to go into effect.
“I would say there are about 50 students in total who are working on this show,” said Wade. “And at least half of the department is involved…All of the designs, except for the set design, are all done by students. Costume design, lighting design, sound design, choreography are all done by students.”
The show was not just a demanding task for the actors performing it, but for all of the people who took on roles as designers as well. Kitsakos said that he and Wade were meeting with people and discussing ideas for the design and overall look of the production, for about a year.
“This show in particular is quite complex as it involves integrating scenic elements, lighting, projections, video, sound and a live rock and roll band on stage,” said Kitsakos. “We spent the last two weeks before the show opened in the theatre writing technical cues for lights, projections and video. This is tedious work which requires great concentration and patience.”
Another concern for both Wade and Kitsakos was casting the lead role of the adult Tommy. Wade said that he originally worried he would have to bring someone from off-campus to play the role, as Tommy is a character with a vocal range that is deemed as being a “rock-tenor” type of voice, much like Roger Daltrey. However, both found their answer in Kevin Berger, a third-year transfer theatre major, who only just enrolled at New Paltz last semester.
“When I’m singing Tommy, when I’m in the moment, I feel like this is a piece of theatre, not a rock concert,” said Berger.
Wade said that there were many stressful parts of the show and that he felt pressure as to whether what he and Kitsakos wanted would fall into place. In the end however, he feels that the show is incredible.
“We’re very proud of the show,” said Wade. “I really don’t think we could have done a better job.”