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    Bit to Do

    JCC CenterStage's The Who's Tommy
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    If you are not acquainted yet with Louisville’s gem CenterStage, then I might suggest that now that this theater staple has reached its 101st season, the time has arrived to remedy this with an unforgettable introduction. Artistic Director John Leffert, the futuristic architect behind the curtain, has officially elevated a community theater quality production to that of dazzling magnitude.

    Start calling Leffert Louisville’s “pinball wizard” director, because the 2015-2016 season opener The Who’s Tommy “take[s] the mind where minds don’t usually go.” It’s an astounding invitation to “come on the amazing journey” of a surrealist rock opera that would even send Salvador Dali on an avant-garde trip; mesmeric vibrations of sound, sight, and sentiment. Set aside whatever reservations you might have- this one drums like a rock show with reckless, remarkable abandon.

    This show is meant to be on a grandiose level. Karl Anderson, who previously has collaborated with Leffert on a brilliant interpretation of Sweeney Todd, knocks it out of the park again. Making the most of every inch of a smaller stage that for a lesser Scenic Designer might have stalled creative vision, Anderson constructs various levels, adding ample depth and dimension. Technical Director Ryan Lanham executes every creation with profound success.

    Between Music Director Angie Hopperton and Sound Designer Bernie S. Abner, the orchestration at CenterStage reverberates in an acute haze of rock and roll like no production before. Theresa Bagan’s lighting explodes on stage in dizzying, vivacious fluorescence. In a behind-the-scenes interview, Leffert revealed, “I think we’ve just gotten better;” and this shines with Tommy.

    One of the most impressive actors on stage is Hunter Broyles, who plays ten year-old Tommy. At such a young age, it’s quite a feat that Broyles holds his own on stage with total gravitas. “Deaf, dumb, and blind” as perceived by the eyes of the outside world, Broyles maintains an exquisite balance between medically unresponsive and eyes electric with imprisoned thoughts screaming to escape.

    Kyle Braun returns after a piercing role of Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening as adult Tommy and narrator. He towers above the tresses on stage, exploring every emotional fissure and solace of a traumatized soul yearning to make sense in a distorted world. Broyles and Braun play off one another superbly, lending for psychological weight as Tommy yearns to be truly seen, felt, touched, and heard.

    Jessica Adamson compassionately plays a tortured Mrs. Walker, who traverses the thorny crossroads life tosses her way. It’s a show about meaty topics of mental illness and abuse, feeling much like a thriller of the subconscious mind, as much as it is about love, tests of parenting and marriage, as well as forgiveness. You know the Walkers are wrong in some of the choices they make; but you don’t hate them. Don’t we all on lesser levels try to convince ourselves of “Do you think it’s alright?” in fixated reiteration to justify complicated situations?

    Just like the “villains” Uncle Ernie (Jason Cooper) and Cousin Kevin (Jordan Price), rightfully two of CenterStage’s favorite stars, play the roles in such a way that the suffering humanity seeps underneath the grotesquely corroded souls. That takes a finessed sense of art to achieve; and should not go underappreciated. Jordan Price commits so earnestly to Pete Lay’s choreography that when he faced a technical glitch of a loosened microphone, he handled it like a consummate pro. Not once did Cousin Kevin’s craze ebb; not a fraction of fanatical movement suffered. All the while, the choreography that spanned the large time frame of the show felt as real as if you might see these characters swaying in front of you on the street.

    The real scene-stealer of the show, however, is Tymika Prince as the Gypsy, who breathes fresh frenzy onto the stage the moment “The Acid Queen” appears, masked, twisting like a wraithlike goddess of bewitching medicine, swathed in an illuminated spectral crimson. As she screeches and howls in desperation, you marvel drop-jawed, hypnotized by whatever crazed tonic she is selling. Tymika is another CenterStage star that every time you think she can’t outdo herself, pulls a modern-day Tina Turner, leaving you speechless.

    With pinball machines literally exploding in spectacular pyrotechnics on stage, actors interacting with the audience, inviting you into the heart of the rock opera, and a piercing story that leaves you ruminating as it does humming along to The Who’s infectious soundtrack, Tommy is a show that sets a high bar for the rest of the season. And I for one can’t wait to see what Leffert and his insightful team dream up next. 

    **

    "THE WHO’S TOMMY" at CenterStage at the JCC

    Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, music and lyrics by Pete Townshend, additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon.

    All donations additionally made at the door will be matched by sponsor J. Michael's Salon & Spa and will be given to ChildHelp to aid victims of child abuse. CenterStage is not just visionary, but philanthropic. 

    July 9-19, 2015

    Thursday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m.
    Saturday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m.
    Sunday, July 12 at 2 p.m.
    Sunday, July 12 at 7 p.m.
    Monday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m.
    Thursday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m.
    Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m.
    Sunday, July 19 at 2  p.m.
    Sunday, July 19 at 7 p.m.

    Tickets at:
    Phone: 238-2709
    Online (Click here)

    This is one you'll remember years later- don't miss out! It's a thought-provoking rock show that roars into summer. 

    First Three Photos: Courtesy of CenterStage; Logo: Courtesy of CenterStage's Facebook; Last Photo: Courtesy of Angie Hopperton's Twitter

    Julie Lamb's picture

    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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