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    CenterStage's Artistic Director John Leffert is sure to have done it again; and by done it again, I mean deftly crafted another sonic, illuminating spectacle. At the heels of opening night for season opener "The Who's Tommy," Mr. Leffert took time to share some insight into how he came to love this rock opera, a glimpse into what we can expect (Hint: Pyrotechnics galore!) and the best rock concert yet that has sidelined as a psychological musical theater mind trip. Prepare to have your minds blown like exploding pinball machines on stage. 

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    Louisville.com: The last time we spoke, I know that you mentioned you like to choose a “rock pop young musical” for summer, like "Spring Awakening" – there is a bit of a pattern there. Knowing that, what led you to choose this particular one to start off the season?

    John Leffert: I saw "Tommy" - it was probably 20 years ago at the Kentucky Center - and it electrified me. I’m not a Who fan. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just never listen to their music. So, this show was produced on Broadway, and I guess I thought, “Yeah, it’s not going to be my thing.” But I went. We got a free ticket. I was living in Jasper at the time. And I drove down and saw it. I loved it so much, I came back two nights later. It blew me away.

    I feel like from the downbeat to the end, it’s almost like you hold your breath. It moves that quickly. I’ve been using the terms that it is going to explode on the stage. That’s what it feels like. It feels like a cacophony of emotion and color and lights and sound coming at you. I think that’s what The Who wanted with this piece.

    It’s intense, but told in kind of a fantastical way that makes it accessible. Why we chose it? It’s not done. It was an incredibly beautiful Broadway show…told in an amazing way with the lights and the music. And it just - they did a brilliant job with it.

    It kind of falls in one of those shows that I thought we could never do here. But then, when we started talking about it - and I’ve got a brilliant design team that have been working so tirelessly to get this show up.

    There’s going to be incredible pinball machines exploding and concert lights everywhere, and tresses in there. Lights in the audience. One time we have five pinball machines on stage.

    The show spans twelve years, so costumes from 1941 all the way through the 1960s - fun costumes from the sixties. It’s going to have everything, and it’s going to have that popular music that [the audience] knows. We’re grateful to J. Michael Salon & Spa, who sponsored it. We’re going to be raising money for a charity organization, part of a…platform for children, like we normally do for shows like this.

    Though I don’t want to concentrate on the issues, they’re there. They’re important. In the end, you’re going to leave with hope. You’re not going to leave sad. You’re going to leave uplifted. I hope people have the same feelings towards it that I did.

    Another thing is this transcends generation. There’s probably a grandfather, a father and a son and daughter could like it too. All three groups might know "The Who’s Tommy" in different ways. That’s a great part about it. This surpasses all generations…

    Lou.com: So what changed between a time that you thought you wouldn’t be able to produce this show and now?

    JL: Well, I think production values. CenterStage has grown. Our quality of productions, what we’re able to do. I’ve got more staff that help me. I’ve got a brilliant designer, Karl Anderson, who designed "Sweeney Todd" for us and is designing this piece. He is brilliant and we collaborate so well together.

    And Theresa Bagan - we finish each other’s sentences. She has been working tirelessly to find the exact lighting. She just showed me some samples of lasers and concert lights, and inside the pinball machines there’s lights…

    Everyone has just jumped on board. Our sound designer saw the show in Stratford…about a few years ago, so he’s been in love with the show. Our musical director has played the show two other times. We had guitar players clamoring to play…The band is going to be on stage. I don’t know, I think we’ve just gotten better. We have a TD [technical director] now that can build stuff that I couldn’t build. We’ve just gotten better at what we do and the longer we go, the better we get. It’s kind of a time that we can do it.

    There are some things we couldn’t do…We chose not to fly Tommy…But the two-way mirror is going to be there. We’ve got some tresses that Tommy might climb up on and appear on different places. We have some surprise trap doors…It probably will have the same effect. And what Karl has done with the set, it should look like a big pinball machine. So when you’re looking at it, it’s like we’re going to perform Tommy on a pinball machine. It’s going to be very exciting.

    Lou.com: Tommy is known as a “pinball wizard.” What are you hoping to achieve with that multi-pinball machine effect?

    JL: Well, there’s going to be tons of lights, tons of sound. At one point, we are having pyrotechnics that we ordered. The machine in act two will explode. You know, the pinball wizard whole thing? That’s what people think of when they think of this show, and that’s just a small portion. That scene - the finale of act one - is just kind of a foreshadowing of what Tommy is going to be. He hasn’t broken free from his…inner walls that he’s put up himself.

    I just want people to have fun and be a part of it. They’re going to feel interactive. There’s a lot of times that the cast comes into the audience, because for a lot of the show [Tommy] is in concert. We will play like the audience as the guests of the concert. We will come off the stage and into the audience. Cast members will be coming from the audience. This show breaks the fourth wall.

    Tommy, before we meet him, is in three different people. It’s a four-year-old Tommy, a 10-year-old Tommy and then finally the adult Tommy at 18 years old. But prior to the 18-year-old joining us, he is the narrator, and he speaks directly to the audience. He is what is going on inside Tommy’s head. He’s able to vocalize what Tommy can’t. It’s interesting.

    You might not know this, but the original Tommy, Michael Cerveris, who was Sweeney Todd and was a Broadway star, he was the original Tommy. So there’s some history with that. And the famous Tina Turner…Tymika Prince is going to be doing that role of the Acid Queen, and she does it brilliantly.

    We have a lot of new people in the cast that are bringing life to this music. Remy Sisk, who is from Acting Against Cancer, the artistic director there, he’s in our show this time. And we have a new boy. He just came to town, and he’s from Pandora [Productions]: Cory Stephens. They’re the three solos, with Jordan Price, who is playing Cousin Kevin. Jason Cooper, he’s been in many [CenterStage productions before] – he is playing Uncle Ernie. You remember Josh Gilliam played Javert [in Les Mis]. He’s coming back to play Mr. Walker. And then Jessica Adamson, who hasn’t been around in a principal role, but amazing, is Mrs. Walker. So it’s an all-star cast, but new people too. Small cast, which is kind of exciting.

    Lights, sound - it’s going to be loud. I do want to tell people that. Some people don’t like the loud, but it kind of insisted on it to get that feeling. You can’t subtly approach the sound for the show.

    We bought a new sound board to be able to do "Tommy;" it came in yesterday. Slides will be projected through the site that will indicate years and help do scenes. You know, it’s a unit set, so there’s not a lot of furniture to indicate scenes. So there is a lot done with slides and just kind of your imagination and costumes. It’s going to be something most people haven’t seen the likes of.

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    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

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