The rock opera "Tommy" features the music of The Who, which was first introduced to the world in LP form in 1969. Its popularity led to the stage adaptation, including a two-year Broadway run beginning in 1993.
Few words are spoken in the musical and so the performers in any production of "Tommy" have to be strong singers. Carole Jean Frawley, director of the Fairfield Teen Theatre, knew that wouldn't be an issue for the group's Main Stage performances of "Tommy" at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, for a second weekend beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday.
For 28 years, Frawley has served as Fairfield Teen Theatre's musical director and producer, so she is familiar with the talent of the high school and college-age performers from Fairfield who generally audition for the summer shows.
Last year's production, "Les Miserables," also was heavy on the singing and short on spoken words.
Emma Linsenmeyer, 18, who plays Mrs. Walker, Tommy's mother, said, "The music speaks for itself."
"In the second act, there's several spoken lines, but overall it's pretty much music. The story is told through the lyrics," said Dylan Levinson, 17.
Levinson has performed in the last four seasons of Fairfield Teen Theatre, which celebrates its 38th season this year, and in this production he tackles the role of the adult Tommy and the narrator.
Levinson was an obvious choice. He is the lead vocalist for an all-male band called Girls on Bikes, which performed at the recent Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport.
"It is very challenging, but it's so exciting and different. In high school, the shows were old-fashioned and boring," said Tricia Sorresso, 17, who plays the gypsy/Acid Queen.
Frawley said "Tommy" was selected for this summer's production because "the kids wanted to let loose and rock out."
There is a unique challenge for one of the performers, and for that role Director Eli Newsom cast Grant Clark, 14, who may not sing, or speak or even emote on stage. Clark portrays the young Tommy, who witnesses a trauma, which throws him into a catatonic state transforming him into "that deaf, dumb and blind kid" who "sure plays a mean pinball."
"It's difficult to play someone who is catatonic because I can't flinch. I can blink my eyes and have good posture, but that's it," Clark said, adding that he has aspired to a professional acting career ever since he was a young boy.
"I like being able to go on stage as a different person to show people that you can portray (characters from) people's writing," he said.
Linsenmeyer said it was initially a struggle to perform only through music, "but as you get used to it, you discover your character in the music and it's not as difficult as it seemed."
All of the performers were born well after the initial release of The Who's "Tommy" album, but many of them believe the score is timeless and will appeal to a wide audience. The score includes many familiar songs and lyrics.
"I've always been into classic rock. `Tommy' is a classic album, and it's always been one of my favorites," said Connor Frawley, 17, of Fairfield, Carole Frawley's son, who plays Tommy's abusive cousin Kevin.
The show does not shy away from some adult themes, including adultery, drug use, prostitution and childhood sexual abuse. Carole Frawley and Newsom have not watered down the content.
"We're trying to do it really tastefully," said Frawley, adding that the performers have made purple ribbons that they will sell in the lobby at performances and the funds will be donated to a local domestic violence shelter, turning difficult subject matter into a positive.
`TOMMY' AT LUDLOWE
"Tommy" will be performed for a second weekend by the Fairfield Teen Theatre in the auditorium of Fairfield Ludlowe High School, 785 Unquowa Road, instead of the troupe's usual venue, Fairfield Warde High School, which is unavailable because of a roofing project. The slate of shows is set for 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, and Saturday, Aug. 11, as well as 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12.
Tickets cost $15, $12 for students and senior citizens. Special seating for parties of four on three couches will be available for each show at $50 per couch. To reserve tickets or couches, call 203-372-9464. Tickets also will be available at the door.