Tommy comes to life

(April 1, 1999, Gazette)

By David Sorensen

When music students Sarah Collins and E. Mark Murphy were fishing for a musical to produce, they decided to stay away from the traditional fare.

Instead, they went with the rock opera Tommy, written by Pete Townshend, former guitarist with the rock band The Who. The show will go ahead April 7-9 at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's.

The pair of novice producers got involved in the project last year when they got this "crazy idea," said Ms. Collins. The music students were doing a course on the history of the Broadway musical in which students performed scenes from famous musicals.

"After watching those scenes ... and they were really, really good, put together with no money ... we said there's so much talent at this school, and it's all going to go away when the semester ends, why not avail of the talent now.

"So Mark and I got this crazy idea, along with Dr. Paul Rice, a professor in the school, let's do a musical."

They went through the catalogues of available shows and picked out Tommy.

The first big task was to come up with the money to produce the play. The expenses started with an $8,000 licencing fee.

They formed the MUN Music Theatre club to get help from the CSU and went about putting the production together. The CSU gave the club a loan to help get started with the production.

But there were more challenges ahead, many more.

"We knew going into this that it was going to be a lot of work," said Ms. Collins. "We just didn't anticipate how much work and how little we knew and how much we still have to learn now."

Mr. Murphy said he's spent the better part of the last year going out for corporate sponsorships.

Getting a director on board was another big challenge.

After three directors departed for various reasons, the club finally got Danielle Irvine to direct the play and her company, First Light Productions, to co-produce it.

First Light agreed to join forces in order to raise money for its own summer production of Place of First Light, held on Bell Island.

"They are like a Godsend," said Mr. Murphy. "All of their crew is just amazing. They know exactly what has to be done and when, whereas we didn't."

"We just had all of these big ideas with no idea how to do it," said Ms. Collins.

But with the help of a large cast and crew, First Light Productions and Eastern Audio, the show will be "the best show to hit the province," said Mr. Murphy.

At the Web site of Music Theatre International, Tommy is described as the story of "a boy who becomes catatonic after witnessing his father murdering his mother's lover. One day he's discovered playing a pinball machine with such a knack that he's enabled to break from his catatonia and he becomes an international superstar.

"The classic 60s rock opera by The Who is transformed into one of the most thrilling musical smashes of the 90s."

It's a mature theme, said Ms. Collins.

"It's not suitable for children," she said.

The lead character is played by David Broderick, Krista Howe is Mrs. Walker and Michael Peddle is Captain Walker.

Tickets are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office.