Exhilarating rock opera ‘The Who’s Tommy’ will tug at your heartstrings

 The School of Music, Theatre and Dance presented the opening show of the rock opera “The Who’s Tommy” last Thursday, March 21 in the Varner Studio Theatre.

“The Who’s Tommy” is based on a 1969 concept album by the British rock band The Who, and is set in the aftermath of World War II. The show marks the first time the theatre department has done a full-on rock opera where the majority of the show is sung.

“It centers around Tommy, a boy who experiences trauma at an early age and can no longer hear, speak or see,” said Stephanie Gettings, a senior performer in the show. “His family spends a lot of their time trying to heal him or figure out what’s wrong, not knowing that this traumatic experience is what caused him to be unresponsive.”

“The Who’s Tommy” has taken home five Tony Awards, and deals with substantial topics such as mental health and abuse, while showing the troubles and healing of the characters throughout.

“We connect with the audience in a way that breaks your heart and mends it at the same time,” Gettings said.

The sorrow presented in the story takes a turn when Tommy’s extraordinary talent for playing pinball is discovered, which drives him to fame.

“There is no time for hesitancy, because the show moves so fast,” said Mackenzie Grosse, who plays Tommy’s mother, Mrs. Walker. “I have to know exactly what I’m feeling the second I hit the stage.”

Gettings feels like this show is the “perfect finale” to her four years at OU.

“Everyone has worked so hard on this show and it’s so special to me that this is my last one,” Gettings said. “There’s something about this show that feels like this big hug that you didn’t know you needed.”

Each performance of the show is shadow-signed for the deaf by Synergy on Stage.

“The music is absolutely stunning, and the coolest part of the entire thing is the work we do with Synergy on Stage,” Josh Frink, who plays Captain Walker, said. “Having them there is just so poignant and powerful.”

Finding the opportunity as an actor to jump into someone else’s life is an amazing experience, according to Frink. Other performers find their roles in the rock opera to be just as lively.

“Portraying Mrs. Walker is incredibly exhilarating,” Grosse said. “I have loved telling a story with such a variety of inward and outward change on Mrs. Walker’s behalf. It makes every night I perform full of new surprises.”

The show is directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre David Gram.

“There is something transformative about watching a musical,” Gram said. “Music in any form hits us in unique and individual ways, and when you couple it with an engaging story… the result can be arresting.”

The remaining performance dates are March 28 and 29 at 8 p.m., March 30 at both 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and March 31 at 2 p.m. There will be working pinball machines in the lobby for the audience to play.

“The talent on display in ‘Tommy’ is electric,” Gram said. “The musical ‘Tommy’ is not often produced. Given the original rock album is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year, what better way to celebrate it than with our own homegrown production? Our hope is to offer the OU community a theatrically visceral experience.”

Tickets for the show can be purchased online or at the Varner Hall Box Office. Tickets are $12 for students and 10 a.m. matinee, and $22 for the general public.