A pinball wizard in Riverhead

08/12/2010 12:00 AM |

Lauren Rowland (foreground, from left), John Yaiullo, Sam Kortchmar and Dan Yaiullo rehearse a scene from ‘Tommy’ at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Monday night.

“Hey, let’s put on a show” was an expression made popular in 1930s films with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. A dozen or so young local actors decided they’d put on a show last summer, and this year they’ve raised the stakes by staging “Tommy,” the late 1960s rock opera made famous by The Who. The production opens tonight (Thursday) for four shows at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.

Tim Ferris and Colin Palmer, both graduates of Riverhead High School, are co-founders of Management Productions, which last year presented the well-received “Assassins,” a Stephen Sondheim musical that uses the premise of a carnival shooting game that attracts various people who have tried to assassinate a U.S. president.

“We had been wanting to do this play since we had read it in high school and just decided to make our own opportunity,” said Mr. Palmer.

Management Productions followed up with David Mamet’s challenging drama “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which was performed this spring in Cut¬­chogue.

The group will continue making its own opportunities this weekend with a stripped-down production of “Tommy.” The 1969 album by The Who and the subsequent Broadway musical loosely tell the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a messianic celebrity. As a young boy, Tommy witnesses the murder of his mother’s boyfriend by his father. His parents’ admonition of “you didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it” works better than they could imagine. Tommy recedes into a world without sight, speech and sound and endures unspeakable abuse. When he is discovered to be a pinball prodigy, he becomes an international sensation, worshipped by millions, and he begins what can only be described as a religious movement.

Mr. Palmer, who both directs and plays the title character, said what will be presented this weekend is a bit different from the Broadway version. He is a fan of the original album, and his interpretation, he feels, goes back to those roots, highlighting the play’s themes of celebrity worship and redemption, and “how ideas can affect all of us … how we can become trapped in our own lives.” He noted that the story “combines elements from both the Judeo-Christian and Buddhist religions that we also enjoyed exploring with the cast.”

Everyone involved, including the band members, is high school or college age, and this provided more than a little challenge. Several other shows this summer tapped into the large number of young East End actors, and some cast members were also in North Fork Community Theatre’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” which just closed. The cast therefore needed to be flexible with the rehearsal schedule, but Mr. Palmer said he’s very proud of the work and the end result.

With minimal sets and virtually no dancing, he said the focus is on the singing and acting, creating a more intimate connection between the audience and the characters to tell the story.

When asked what he’d like audiences to ultimately come away with, he responded, “I’d really like people to experience theater in a way that isn’t glitzed up with special effects, fancy lighting, extravagant costumes. It’s about getting back to the basics.”

The Who’s ‘Tommy’

Presented by Management Productions

Vail-Leavitt Music Hall

18 Peconic Ave., Riverhead

Performances: Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 12-14, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 15, 2 p.m.

$8 in advance; $12 at door

Call 631-745-0124.