The Egyptian Theatre ‘plays a mean pinball’
A theatre converted into a glowing pinball machine.
A costume designer responsible for a 1967 Beatles’ album cover.
A psychedelic storyline about a pinball whiz kid Tommy who manages to feel music after a psychosomatic disorder strikes him deaf, mute and blind.
Can an opera get more rock than this?
The Egyptian Theatre Company hopes not.
After the success of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Full Monty" the company is convinced "Tommy," based on The Who’s 1969 rock opera, will be a smash. And so far, so good: there hasn’t been a ticket left for Friday’s opening night show for two weeks.
Egyptian Theatre Company’s Director Dana Durbano says the past two years she has billed contemporary musical theater in the post-holiday, post-film festival slot performances have sold out in part because rock music speaks to generations young and old, but she also senses a shift in Utah’s theatrical tastes.
Increasingly, Durbano notices the February crowd appears to be local, comprised of Park City and Salt Lake residents seeking out a more adventurous theater experience.
"We’re a little edgier here — we like to do shows they aren’t doing on the other side of the mountains," Durbano admits. "But things have definitely changed a lot in Utah in the past few years."
"Tommy" director Jerry Rapier, who runs Salt Lake’s Plan B Theatre Company, has seen the same trend.
Rapier, returning to the Egyptian after a six-year absence, claims just a decade ago, the style and content of "Tommy" would have been "something no one would touch."
"I’ve been directing in this state for 10 years and, theatrically speaking, things are night and day since I moved here," Rapier says. "It’s exciting to be a part of it."
In 2003 and 2005, he twice directed Salt Lake productions of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," a musical about a fictional rock band fronted by a transsexual singer, and says his experience with that unconventional musical has prepared him for "Tommy."
"This is non-traditional musical theater so the normal rules don’t really apply," Rapier explains. "Usually, I begin with the story, but this time I needed to begin with the music. There’s really very little dialogue."
The fact that the cast is adept at singing, dancing and acting, helped, Rapier says, but then there are the added expectations from his sister, from his friends, and from the public in general who not only know The Who’s music from radio, from "Tommy" the film and "best of" compilations, but will likely be singing along word-for word from the aisles.
"People who know this music well are very protective of the music," he observes. "This is music people are familiar with, so the pressure is really a little different the really big challenge for me was to walk that line of pleasing The Who fans and the theatrical audience and that’s not always the same group of people."
Rapier says he owes a lot to musical director David Evanoff, who he collaborated with for "Hedwig," and who also directed the music for the Egyptian’s "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Full Monty" he confesses Evanoff was a touch more familiar with the musical material.
Rapier promises that there will be no projections used in his production of "Tommy," and that unlike the film version, there will be no mention of pork and beans or Ann Margaret, who played Tommy’s mother in the film. (He notes The Who band member and "Tommy" composer Pete Townsend famously panned the film version, he said, then later helped to tweak the musical version of their opera to better represent the band’s vision.)
Lending additional authenticity to the production is costume designer Jann Haworth, who comes by her ’60s and ’70s style honestly. A formerly British-based pop artist, Haworth and her husband designed the original cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
In the 1990s, Haworth moved to a home at the Sundance Resort, and has continued to paint. In Salt Lake, she designed the 50-by-30-foot SLC Pepper civic mural based on her initial "Pepper" album jacket, but with heroes and heroines of the 21st Century.
Born in America, Haworth sometimes helped her father who designed sets for Hollywood films like "Some Like It Hot" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," and was nominated for six academy awards, winning one for the film "Sayonara."
While this is Haworth’s first collaboration on a theatrical production in the U.S., in the 1990s, she designed costumes and set pieces for a production of "Tommy" as part of the United Kingdom’s Eurofest, she says.
"I have to admit, I was really wishing to do stage or ballet I love the idea of a figure moving and wearing art," she said. "Stage production in the States has been a very pleasurable thing."
Haworth says her art has a specific style that would not be suitable for most productions. She continues to consider herself a pop artist, of the British variety, which, she explains is unlike the "slap-it-to-you" Warhol images, and much more overtly about pop imagery and iconography.
"New York pop is very much concerned with the printed image, I would say, and about advertising as a centerpiece to their concerns. British pop art did call on those things as well, but it’s much more closely aligned to traditional fine art painting," she said.
Haworth describes her costumes are less authentically post-World War II (the time period in which the play is set) and much more expressive of the period, "like a brush stroke."
As the mother of an actress, Haworth adds that as she designed the costumes, she attempted to be sensitive to the actors who would be wearing them.
"I think it must be remembered too that the costumes shouldn’t get in the way of the movement or the music or the actors’ expression," she said. "Without going completely mad, respectfully, you try to make something that picks up on the fashion of the time and then you blend it with the actor and what they will be comfortable with."
A fan of Rapier’s "Hedwig" productions, Haworth noted she has been impressed with the cast and crew’s discipline and talent.
"I think the British are kind of a little different when they approach theater it’s a different pace," she said. "It’s been amazing to work with everyone here [the company] is so tight and they work so hard. It’s all so fabulously professional."
The Egyptian Theatre is located at 328 Main Street in Park City. Ticket prices for "Tommy" range from $16 to $36. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com or call the box office at 649-9371.
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