August 2, 2007
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
All Access stages Tommy in Derry
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
All Access Productions in Nashua, a brand new drama, music and dance school in Nashua, is going for a blowout beginning by staging The Who’s rock opera Tommy as their first production, Thursday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 12.
The Who originally wrote Tommy as a concept album released in 1969 and it became a film in 1975 and a stage musical in 1993. Tommy’s father is presumed dead at war when Tommy is born. When his lost father returns a few years later, Tommy’s mother has moved on. His father shoots his wife’s new lover. They tell Tommy he didn’t see or hear it and should never speak of it. Tommy is so traumatized he becomes deaf, dumb and blind. His parents spend the rest of Tommy’s youth trying anything to cure him, from acid to cults. But it’s Tommy’s amazing skill at pinball that shows promise. Then the story gets weirder still.
Director Brandon Mallard worked with Teen Actorsingers last summer to produce a blowout contemporary revival of Godspell, with rock and techno music, heavy on the special effects. This summer Mallard and his All Access cohort (some of whom were involved in Godspell) wanted to top that effort.
“This show was just about showing what we can do,” Mallard said about Tommy.
Jeff Prescott, music director for All Access, was part of the band that Pirate Stage of New Hampshire used for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which just ran off-Broadway in New York. The same musicians also played for Godspell.
“We have an amazing band,” Mallard said.
Tommy involves lots of special effects, from hydraulic lifts to flying. The prop list is 10 pages long. There are about 20 cast members and they all have about 20 costume changes. Some “literally have a guitar riff to change their costume,” Mallard said. Since the story spans three decades, the 1940s through the 1960s in England, the costumes have to change with the eras. All Access has hired professional companies to take care of technical aspects and rent costumes.
Although the cast is teens and young adults, Mallard stresses that this is not a “teen show” per se. Most of the characters in the show are in their late teens or early 20s, and it is cast appropriately, Mallard said.
“I wouldn’t have done this show with just any teens,” Mallard said. One of the reasons he felt confident was that for the past three or four years a core group of teens have followed him to work on his projects. He knew they could handle the subject matter, the strenuous schedule and the demands of a rock opera.
Mallard, who founded Cabaret de Boheme, has never directed a rock opera.
“I’ve found it to be a humongous challenge,” he said. Rock operas don’t have spoken dialog. In this show, instrumental music needs to tell much of the story. The leads have solos, but the rest of the cast is often telling the story through pantomime.
All Access is going heavy on promotions to try to fill the 900-seat Stockbridge Theater for five shows. Get your pinball skills ready. You might be on stage.
“I guess we wanted to try something with this show … any show that I’ve ever worked with, the last thing that gets thought about is the audience — meaning “how do we get butts in seats?” Mallard said.
All Access is going for The Who fans by advertising on classic rock radio stations. They have performed segments of Tommy during pre-show entertainment for New Thalian’s Theater in the Park shows, Buskers on the Bricks, and other summer events. They have a MySpace page, myspace.com/tommynh, and a Web site, tommynh.com.
Their most over-the-top gimmick is their pinball competition. All Access bought one of the 1,400 pinball machines in existence of the sort used for the Tommy stage musical. They also bought a Gibson Epiphone SG guitar. Folks will be able to sign up to compete on the pinball machine before each show. Finalists compete on stage Aug. 12, backed up by the band playing Who tunes. The winner also takes home the Gibson. There’s no purchase necessary to compete.
“We really wanted to treat this like a business. It takes money to make money,” Mallard said. They had sold about 200 tickets per show by July 26. Not bad, but you don’t want the kids to see just the front of the house filled, Mallard said.
Regarding how All Access found the cash to front a massive production of Tommy and buy a pinball machine, Mallard mentioned the “angel investor” who he would not name in the spring. That’s when All Access opened with a 5,000-square-foot space in an old mill at 25 Front St. in Nashua.
“We’re not a new company ... our focus is on education,” Mallard explained. Shows are the outcome of All Access classes, as well as advertising.
The Who’s Tommy
Presented by All Access Productions at the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy on Route 28 in Derry, Thursday, Aug. 9, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m. $17. Buy tickets at tommynh.com or at the door. Call All Access at 886-2768.
Which to see?
Tommy vs. Footloose
All Access and Teen Actorsingers aren’t going head to head on purpose. This was just when the stages were available, the groups said.
“The two casts aren’t going to be able to see each other’s shows, which is really sad,” said Tommy’s director, Brandon Mallard. He noted there wasn’t even much conflict during auditions because the shows are so different. Both are heavy on the rock, but from much different eras and with very different topics; dancers were naturally drawn to Footloose, Mallard said. Two sisters are performing in the different shows.
“We help each other out,” exchanging labor for set builds, said Footloose executive producer Rick Brooks