Rock Opera Wizards : The Who’s Tommy in Concert

The Who's Tommy. Performers l-r Marc Ducusin, Franco DeCrescentis, Travis Martin, Shawn Thicke. Photo Jason Howell The Who's Tommy. Performers l-r Marc Ducusin, Franco DeCrescentis, Travis Martin, Shawn Thicke. Photo Jason Howell

Noelle Hannibal is living proof that the show must go on. She talks to me about In the Wings Promotions’ upcoming show, The Who’s Tommy, a day after her 10-day stint in the hospital. She’s not only the head of the company, but is playing the role of Mrs. Walker (Tommy’s mother). Did I mention she picked up pneumonia while in the hospital? I asked her if she’s up for it, since the show starts in a few weeks. Apparently, director Nadia Verrucci did as well.

“I’m doing nothing this week but lying on my sofa, catching up on my tv shows and doing pr stuff,” she says, and then adds that later that night, “Nadia and the actors playing Tommy [Travis Martin] and Captain Walker [Jason Howell] are coming over to show me everything I’ve missed. I’m up for it.”

It’s this kind of unsinkable spirit that makes Montreal’s theatre scene vibrate so brilliantly. It’s so diva-free, so passionate, so committed.

The Who’s Tommy is about a young man who has gone deaf, dumb, and blind after seeing his father commit murder. Tommy eventually becomes a pinball pro and a cult figure.

The Who's Tommy. Performers l-r Marc Ducusin, Franco DeCrescentis, Travis Martin, Shawn Thicke. Photo Jason Howell

The Who’s Tommy. Performers l-r Marc Ducusin, Franco DeCrescentis, Travis Martin, Shawn Thicke. Photo Jason Howell

Hannibal explains that Tommy is a show she had to do. Everything came into place surprisingly quickly. After her company’s successful production of Chess in April, she intended to do a show every spring. At the after-party, everyone kept asking when her next show was, but she wanted to put off any decisions until she returned from a trip to L.A. Then it happened. The CD of the Broadway cast recording of Tommy “leapt out and hit me in the head,” she says, noting that its bright yellow colour may have played a role. “It thought it was perfect — a crossover show, wide variety, very epic because of the Who, and my very dear friend Michael Cerveris was hand picked by Pete Townsend. He was the original Tommy on Broadway.  It cemented the decision.”

She shared her choice with collaborator musical director Ian Baird and he thought it was perfect. They decided to create a concert-version of the musical, but something that goes beyond “people standing at microphones.” Hannibal says, “It’s somewhere between just a concert and a fully realized production. We don’t have fancy sets or costumes or quick changes. But, we’re each playing a character. We’re still telling a story in that way. We have staging that makes it interesting and lets the audience understand what’s happening.”

Finding Tommy almost proved the show’s undoing. “We were having a hard time finding the right person,” Hannibal says. “We were thinking of cancelling, and then Travis walked in. It was one of those instantaneous things. He looks the part, sounds the part. Everything about him is really shines.”

A few cast members have never been in a musical before. Instead, they’re rock singers. Shawn Thicke, for example, came to audition only because his cousin recommended it. He didn’t expect to get cast. Nonetheless, not only is he performing in Tommy, but his band recently won a battle of the bands.

One other interesting fact is that the choice of venue — the Rialto — fits the show. Though initially the venue seemed too expensive, the owner of the Rialto approached Hannibal and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. She’s extra thrilled since the place is known for having great rock concerts and the space used by the show has a new sound system, lighting, and stage.

The Who’s Tommy In Concert takes place November 19-21 at the Rialto Hall (5719 Parc Ave). $25. Click HERE for tickets.

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