September 19, 2020

1998-01-25 – The Montgomery Advertiser

1998 01 25 The_Montgomery_Advertiser_Sun__Jan_25__1998_

66 January 25. 1998

ARTS

Sunday Montgomery Advertiser

Birmingham’s ‘Tommy’ will introduce at least one to rock opera

,ou say to me, The Who,
and I'll say to you, “The
what?“ So first off, I’ll ad-
mit. I don’t know much

about my subject today. Cut out
the snickering! I heard one of you
say, “So. What’s new?”

Sure. I've heard vaguely of
“Tommy," the so-called rock opera,
and even more vaguely of The
Who, the rock band that first per-
formed “Tommy" and Pete Town-
shend. the group member responsi-
ble for the music and lyrics. But in
a person who less than four years
ago had never attended a rock con-
cert. who had never wanted to and
who having done so once is not in-
clined to repeat the experience,
even this vague awareness is sur-
prising.

For me rock is a geologic forma-
tion, and opera elicits the names of
Wagner. Verdi and their brother-
hood.

Then last week I got a phone call

Allan Swafiord

from Helen Hays. No. Not that Hel-

en Hays. My Helen is a charming
young woman with the University
of Alabama-Birmingham office of
media relations. In recent months
she has often made me aware of
goingson in the city‘s theater
scene. This time she called to say
that UAB Town & Gown Theatre
will open “Tommy” this Thursday

at Clark Theatre.

This work, according to Helen. is
the story of a blind, deaf and mute
child growing up in the aftermath
of World War II. A victim of abuse,
Tommy triumphs and recovers
from the disorders induced by psy-
chological trauma.

Now nearly 30 years old, ”Tom-
my” has had quite a performance
history. It first appeared as little
more than a collection of songs on
The Who’s concept album of 1969.
In 1970, the group toured it with
changes in several European opera
houses, ending up at the New
Scene, an adjunct of Copenhagen’s
Royal Theatre. It was not their
usual venue, to say the least. La
Scala, by the way, denied them a
booking, operating no doubt on a
narrower definition of opera.

Then in 1975 the outrageous Ken
Russell directed a film version
with still more changes and a cast
that included (along with a couple
of The Whoms?) Ann-Margret, El-
ton John, Tina Turner and Jack
N icholson — names of sufficient

WANT TO GO?

- What: “Tommy" by Pete
Townshend of The Who and
produced by UABT&G

- When: 7:30 pm. Thursday
through Feb. 8; 2 pm. mati-
nees Feb. 1 and Feb. 8

I When: Clark Theatre,
1116 South 26th St, Sinning-
ham

- Admission: $25; $20 for
senior citizens

- Information: (205) 934-
3489

fame to have reached even my
sheltered ears.

But the great triumph came with
a revamped version on Broadway
in 1993 that collected 24 awards in-
cluding five Tonys. It is this much-
acclaimed version that Clark The-
atre will offer.

James Keith will perform the ti-
tle role. Though a mere 21, Keith

has years of performance experi-
ence, having begun to sing in
church at age 3. Currently, he is a
student in musical theater at Bir-
mingham Southern College.

A Birmingham native, Keith lefi
for New York immediately afler
graduation from Hewlett-Trus-
sville High School. There he stud-
ied at the American Musical and
Dramatic Academy. But as early as
high school, he was attracting no-
tice and winning awards.

At the All State Music Festival,
he was named Alabama’s Out-
standing Choral Student. At the
Trumbauer Festival, he was
named State Champion Musical
Theatre Soloist afier singing “Not
While I’m Around” from “Sweeney
Tod

“It kind of went from there," he
said.

Keith got the role of Tommy
even though T 8: G originally
planned to import an established
singing actor for the part.

“I said, ‘Give me a shot,‘ ” he
said.

Lori Craig Pulvino the director.
gave him a shot. He auditioned,
was called back a couple of times
and landedthe role.

Birmingham’s Summerfest audi-
ences have seen Keith for four sea-
sons in such roles as the title char-
acter of “Pippin,” as Che in
“Evita” and as Jesus in both “-God
spell” and “Jesus Christ, Super-
star." Among the many other pro-
ductions he has appeared in are
“Guys and Dolls" and “The King
and I."

For Keith. the son of a former
rock singer, Tommy is probably a
natural role. I’m looking forward
to broadening my experience by
seeing a rock opera. Maybe, just
maybe, I'll loosen up a little. But
don’t hold your breath.

Allan qufford lives in Montgom-
ery, has a master’s degree in Eng-
lish, has taught theater history, has
adjudicated play competitions and
has acted in or directed productions.
His column appears every Sunday
in the Arts & Travel section.