September 24, 2020

1996-03-14 – Lansing State Journal

1996 03 14 Lansing_State_Journal_Thu__Mar_14__1996_

Rock or opera“): Well, it’s both. "The Who’s Tommy,’

. -

hailed as the world's first rock opera.

A tale of triumph

18-year-old lands
title role in The Who’s
rock opera ‘Tommy’

By Barbara Milstein

Lansing State Journal

Michael Seelbach is an incredibly
lucky 18-year-old. _

In fact, he has the kind of luck
that aspiring actors dream of: When
“The Who’s Tommy" begins its
sold-out Wharton Center run on Fri-
day, he’ll have the title role.

Pete Townshend’s bigger-than-
life rock opera won five Ton
Awards in 1993, after a long roa .

In 1969, eight years before Seel-
bach was born, “Tommy” was a
landmark album by Townshend’s
group, The Who. In ’75, it became a
popular movie.

Much later, the Broadway show
broke box-office records. Critics
praised its high-tech wizardry, elec-
t ' 'ng opening, and inspirational
en ing — all set to the rock beat of
such songs as “Pinball Wizard,”
“I’m Free” and “See Me, Feel Me.”

But back to Seelback, who plays
Tommy from ages 18-28. What
stroke of luck took him from his
Cleveland high school to this Broad-
way tour?

Last spring, he auditioned for a
Cleveland Summer Theatre produc-
tion of “Into The Woods.” He got

20 Wlnt’s 0n

the job — but never got around to
performing.

In between the auditions and the
rehearsals, the director went back
to New York to hold auditions for
the “Tommy” tour.

“During those auditions, she
thought of me,” Seelbach said. “She
called and asked me to come to New
York to the final callbacks.

“l auditioned for her, the produc-
ers, the choreographer and the
stage manager, so it was kind of
scary."

A year earlier, Seelbach saw
:‘Tommy” in New York and never
imagined he would be the lead.

This all started when Seelbach
was a second grader. His mother
had to find a place for him after
school.

A Youth Theater fit the bill. His
first role was in “Snow White and
the Eight Dwarves” — as Shorty,
the added dwarf.

“It was the sort of cast where ev-
e one gets 3 art," he says. “I was
le over, so t ey created the role.
Right away, I fell in love with acting.

“Otherwise, I haven’t taken les-
sons in singing, acting or dancin .
Except for my senior year (in big
school), when I went to the Cleve-
land Institute of Music for voice
lessons.”

Reviews have mentioned Seel-
bach’s “particularly fine voice” and
his “expressive performance.”

Director Victoria Bussert recog-

msatelmal

vA-_ - " u-l ‘-

' written by guitarist Pete Townshend, was

On stage

I ”Tommy"

I Opens Friday at Wharton Cen-
ter, for a three—day ru'n.

ISome scattered tickets avail-
able, at 432-2000.

nizes talent. She's led such big tours
as “Barnum," "The Secret Garden”
and “Guys and Dolls.”

“Tommy” is a show to be seen
and felt, rather than explained. It
traces Tommy at age 4, at 10 and at
18 and beyond.

As a young boy, Tommy is struck
deaf, dumb and blind after witness-
ing the murder of his mother’s lover
by his father. The musical centers
on how he makes an extraordinary
journey to recovery.

“It’s really hard to explain,” said
Seelbach. “At the beginning, I’m
really a narrator telling, through
song, what the 4- and 10-year-olds
are thinkin .

“Then, er a few numbers, I
stop being a narrator and become
Tommy.

“A lot of the scene changes are
done with pro'ections. There’s also
some pyrotec nics.

“The music is what’s so great! It’s
been a lot of fun for me. Everything
I thought it would be.”