A "deaf, dumb and blind" boy who goes on to become a "Pinball Wizard" and an iconic spiritual guru is set to weave his magic in Costa Mesa.
Anaheim's Chance Theater has brought its acclaimed revival of seminal rock opera "The Who's Tommy," to the Founders Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Based on the 1969 concept album, the remounted show, last seen in 2010 on the Chance's own stage, details Tommy's transformation from an abused, catatonic boy to messianic figure, with classic tunes like "We're Not Gonna Take It," "Do You Think It's Alright?" and "Acid Queen."
"It always comes back to the music, right? It's this really great show about alienation and the strength of family and the human spirit," said Casey Long, Chance co-founder, managing director and "Tommy" sound designer.
"Really, for anybody who thinks they've already seen 'Tommy,' it's going to be bigger, brighter and better than when it first came around. We've really pushed ourselves as an entire production team.
"We're at the Segerstrom Center, so we're going to bring it and show South County what we can do."
The Chance's production is acclaimed for its high-tech visuals, using full-motion video projection and an astounding variety of LED fixtures to tell the colorful, vibrant story — and they've stepped up the ante even more for this remount.
"I just saw my first tech rehearsal on Saturday, and my mouth was just hanging open," Long said. "When we brought it into the bigger house, it just blew the roof off, and it was fantastic."
Taking "Tommy" from a 49-seat theater to the center's black box-style Founders Hall, which seats about 166, required creativity and flexibility from the Chance team.
"It's the same basic staging, but we've really sort of upped our game," Long said. "The set designer loved the opportunity. We've raised the elevation of the set a little bit. They used to have to duck down a little bit [on the Chance stage].
"The lighting and video designer, KC Wilkerson, just won an Ovation Award [from the LA Stage Alliance] a couple weeks ago, and was nominated for two LADCC [Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle] awards. He has new toys this time around, and this time he's just having a ball. It's much more like that rock concert visual."
In the film world, when a movie wins an Oscar for best picture, people who haven't seen the movie customarily are given the chance to see it in the theater again.
"Theater's different from film," Long said. "Theaters get awards months after a show closes. Now it's this great opportunity for people who either saw the show or heard about the show and said, 'Oh, I really wanted to see that. I can't believe I missed it.'"
Casting a vision
As part of a decision to explore staging shows in other venues throughout the county, the Chance debuted last year at South Coast Repertory with a successful remounting of a Chance audience favorite, "Jesus Hates Me."
This was followed by a major coup, when President Terry Dwyer of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, then the Orange County Performing Arts Center, asked the Chance to bring their acclaimed staging of "The Who's Tommy" to Founders Hall.
"I believe he was the first person [from the center] who saw 'Tommy' when we did it, and he actually worked on the original production at the La Jolla Playhouse," Long said.
Dwyer, the La Jolla Playhouse's longtime former managing director, had just started there when Pete Townshend of The Who and the playhouse's then-theatrical director, Des McAnuff, created the future Broadway musical version of the band's highly successful rock opera.
"Terry saw ours and said we have to make it work [at the center]," Long said. "He's been very supportive of us for years now. The whole staff over at the Segerstrom Center has been wonderful, and they've been extremely welcoming. It's just like it was with South Coast Rep."
Little stage, big heart
The Chance has received major recognition since its founding, but has come into its own in the last few years, Long said.
"We've been around since 1999," Long said. "We've produced fresh, contemporary theater here at our 49-seat venue. Intimacy is a major factor, and one of our core values here."
This year, the Chance is putting on six shows — four of which are major premieres. They sport their own resident company of actors and staff, and this year announced their first resident playwright, Adam Szymkowicz.
The Chance will offer workshops of two of his plays, and is in the middle of the West Coast premiere of a new Szymkowicz play, "Nerve," a dark comedy on the modern dating scene. It closes Feb. 27.
After "Nerve," the Chance will bring to their Anaheim Hills main stage the world premiere of "The Boy in the Bathroom" from April 15 to May 22; the Southern California premiere of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" from July 1 to Aug. 7; and the California premiere of "Up" from Sept. 23 to Oct. 23. Their holiday series will include "Anne of Green Gables" from Nov. 18 to Dec. 27, and "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" from Nov. 29 to Dec. 20.
The Chance is in the middle of a four-year campaign to reach 1,500 subscribers by 2015, in order to raise artist stipends, add staff and expand their education programs, as well as put on more performances in their venue.
"Once we get to that capacity, then we can think about moving to a larger space," Long said.
If You Go
What: The Chance Theater's "The Who's Tommy"
When: Through Feb. 20
Where: Founders Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $35 and up