The Who? That’s right, The Who! The English rock band with the confusing name created an album titled “Tommy” in 1968. Tommy helped The Who’s rise to fame and eventually earned a movie title of the same name, followed by a rock opera, all based off the original story contained within the album. A production of the opera will be performed at the UC Davis Main Theatre in Wright Hall beginning May 19th. I was able to sit down with the director of the production, Mindy Cooper, as well as Graham Sobelman, the music director of the play, and ask them a few questions.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Mindy: Me. I’m directing and choreographing this. I’m the current Granada Artist-In-Residence. I am here to direct The Who’s: Tommy. It’s actually my 4th time directing at UC Davis. I’ve done Oklahoma!, Spelling Bee, and Urinetown before this. It’s great, because I have a handle of how I can get to the finished product I want. I’ve been in the Broadway community for 30 years now. I was a performer first, and then followed that by becoming a choreographer and then a director. I started as a performer, which lead to me choreographing, which lead to me directing. I started my professional career at 18 and I was in dance companies for many many years. I made my Broadway debut at age 26. And I’m turning 50 now. I didn’t stop performing until a couple years ago, though I have been drecting for a long time.
Graham: I’m the one in charge of music for the production. I help play the music for the rehearsals. And I’ll be rehearsing the band and playing during the musical. I’ll be the one bobbing my head along to the music.
What can you say about the Rock Opera?
Mindy: Oh, it’s fun! It’s going to be a blast. It appealed to me to direct because I felt it was appropriate for the school, the students, and the community. For me, it’s fun because it is an opera. It melds my theater and dance worlds. When you’re staging an opera, I think it stages very much like a dance. I’ve gone about this almost from a dance visual perspective. I’m not saying I’ve created a million dances in it, but the pictures I’ve painted on stage are very dance orientated. It’s sung through music. I have about a page and a half of dialogue, unlike other rock musicals where there’s three pages of dialogue between each song. It’s just song, song, song, song. The show was taken from the concept album that The Who produced in the late ‘60s. Which had a narrative, a storyline. It was kind of non-liner, and then it was made into a movie, which was very non-liner and very wacky. The Who’s: Tommy, the album, catapulted them to Stardom and they became very famous. And then the movie and the play came out. It’s kind of different, an album being the source of a musical. It was the grandfather of Rock Opera, in a way, leading the way for musicals like Rent or American Idiot.
So, I heard you were a part of the staff during the original Broadway show?
Mindy: I ran the dance auditions for the original Broadway show, so I basically assisted on hiring for the broadway show. I didn’t direct the original, I didn’t choreograph it, I didn’t even see it. I think I was busy during the 2 years it was running.
How is it working with the UC Davis students?
Mindy: It is different. I approach things different when I’m creating things with students versus working with professionals. One of the good things about working here is that I kind of know the strength and weakness of this department because I’ve worked with them before. It is different from working with professionals in that it takes longer; I like to level the playing field. I’ll get people very talented in certain aspects, like singing, and then I’ll get some better dancers or actors than others. In order to get a finished product, I need to level the playing field, which is kind of different when I work on professionals, because I don’t have to get everyone on the same level. I just hire them at that level. For me it fun and can be very creative. There’s an energy and passion you don’t get from professionals. It’s very open and free and exciting. It’s not a job for them. They just have energy and enthusiasm and that’s fantastic!
How has it come along?
Mindy: It’s coming to fruition. This is the week we get to see the lights and the costumes and we’re getting the band, which is going to be kickass! It’s going to blow the roof off. We have a good sound team.
Have there been any technical issues?
Mindy: Of course. There always is. Everything always falls apart during rehearsals and then they’ll come together. It’s right on schedule. It’s the magic of the theater.
What should the audience expect?
Mindy: It’s a big musical and there’s a desire for it.
Graham: It’s definitely a generational thing. Everyone above a certain age when you mention it say they love that album.
Mindy: It’s iconic. The musical never gets done. And so we’re doing these junior high school performances today. One of the actors was asked a question today and she answered “My father went nuts when he found out that I was doing this. He gave me his album to listen to and everything,” and there’s a generation of people in that were raised by this music. And it’s very prevalent in Davis. It’s very rare to hear this music and show done. It’s for all audiences. Well, maybe not for the very young. There are some innate sexual abuse in the story. And there are some overtones. There’s one curse word. From everybody I’ve ever met in Davis, it should be fine and it shouldn’t scar anyone. It’s gonna be a crowd pleasing show.
How many people are going to be in the performance?
26 or 27 so. 5 people in the band. And all the extras that nobody hears about.
Anything else you want to tell the readers?
I love the response I get from people. There’s a universality to the music and the message. It’s a story about hope, rebirth, and belief. It can be very uplifting.
The production will occur, as I stated earlier, in the Main Theatre of Wright Hall in UC Davis. It will be on May 19th-22st and May 26th-29th. The play will begin at 8:00P.M. except for the ones schedule for Sunday, which will start at 2:00P.M. Tickets will be $18/22 for General Admission and $15/20 for Students, Children, and Seniors.
To purchase tickets call: 530.754.2787, or toll-free 866.754.2787 or visit http://mondaviarts.org/