From left: Charl Brown, Betsy Morgan, Owen Zitek, Carson Elrod and Charlie Korman.
‘Smash’ star: ‘I’m excited for the challenge and opportunity to show audiences who I am as a musician and an actor.’
By John Moore
Senor Arts Journalist
Andy Mientus is known around the world for two iconic, music-infused projects — Broadway’s Spring Awakening and TV’s Smash. And he says the bloodline for both absolutely run straight through The Who. Which makes it all the more perfect for Mientus to be coming to Denver to play Tommy in the DCPA Theatre Company’s star-studded production of The Who’s Tommy, based on the band’s 1969 concept album about a boy who retreats into a world of darkness and silence after witnessing a traumatic incident and emerges as a pinball wizard.
“You can bet that The Who’s album, and then the original cast recording of Tommy, was in the library of all of the contemporary musical-theater writers you love,” Mientus told the DCPA NewsCenter today in the announcement of his first return to Denver since playing Hanschen in the 2009 national touring production of Spring Awakening.
“That album was an absolute phenomenon when all of our current songwriting greats were coming up, and I think any fan of the contemporary musical canon will absolutely freak out for this score if they don’t know it yet.”
Tommy will be directed by visionary British director Sam Buntrock, who last year directed the Denver Center’s U.S. premiere of Nick Dear’s Frankenstein. Buntrock has been nominated for Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk awards for his innovative work in theatre, film and animation, including Broadway’s 2008 revival of Sunday In The Park With George. He also directed Ed, Downloaded for the Denver Center in 2012.
Mientus will be joined by a cast that includes big-name Broadway veterans Betsy Morgan (The King and I) as Mrs. Walker, Tony Award-nominated Charl Brown (Motown the Musical) as Captain Walker, and Carson Elrod (Peter and the Starcatcher) as Uncle Ernie. Colorado Shakespeare Festival audiences may remember Elrod from the 1999 season, when he played Dromio of Syracuse in A Comedy of Errors, among other roles.
Mientus called Buntock’s lineup “a visionary creative team and incredible company,” and called Tommy his dream role.
“Growing up, my house was full of music but strangely, not musicals,” Mientus said. “I’m not sure where I caught that bug. Instead, my earliest musical influences were classic rockers, soul singers and folk balladeers. I was aware of The Who’s album long before I was aware of Tommy as a stage show. So, it’s a bit of connective tissue between my two worlds, and something my dad would have absolutely loved to see. I haven’t sung so much in a musical since Les Miserables in 2015, but the score of Tommy is much more in my wheelhouse, vocally, so I’m excited for the challenge and the opportunity to show audiences who I am as a musician as well as an actor.”
Tommy is a musical about the challenges of self-discovery and the resilience of a boy who must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world with no hope of recovery. But when he discovers a newfound talent for pinball, he’s swept up in the fame and fortune of his success. The story was made into a trippy film in 1975 starring Roger Daltrey, and in 1993 debuted as a Broadway musical under the direction of Des McAnuff.
“I think Tommy is, at its heart, a parable about feeling alien in your own family and community,” Mientus said. “Tommy escapes into the serenity of his own mind after a traumatic event and is treated terribly by almost everyone around him. I think we have all felt that way at some point.”
Four actors will play Tommy at different ages — two rotating local children will play Tommy at age 4. Owen Zitek (of DCPA Theare Company’s A Christmas Carol) will play him at 10, and Mientus at 18. In an unusual twist, Buntrock will also have Cousin Kevin age over the course of the story with age-appropriate actors. He will be played as a boy by Denver Center favorite Charlie Korman (Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol), who is now a high-school student at Denver School of the Arts but has been appearing on DCPA stages since he was 5. Kevin will be played as an adult by big-time Australian actor Gareth Keegan (TV’s The Good Fight.)
- Andy Mientus (Broadway’s Les Misérables, Spring Awakening, NBC’s “Smash”) as Tommy
- Joe Beauregard (Kinky Boots first national tour) as Ensemble
- Charl Brown (Broadway’s Motown The Musical) as Captain Walker
- Katie Drinkard (DCPA’s The Wild Party) as Swing
- Carson Elrod (Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher, Noise’s Off) as Uncle Ernie
- Lulu Fall (Broadway’s Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Hair) as Acid Queen/Ensemble
- David Hess (Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard, Sweeney Todd) as Minister/Specialist/Judge/Ensemble
- Sara Kapner (Broadway’s Hollywood Arms) as Sally Simpson/Ensemble
- Gareth Keegan (CBS’ Instinct) as Cousin Kevin/Lover
- Charlie Korman (DCPA’s Frankenstein) as Young Cousin Kevin/Ensemble
- Betsy Morgan (Broadway’s The King and I) as Mrs. Walker
- Corbin Payne (The Arvada Center’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) as Swing
- Terence Reddick (Broadway’s Les Miserables) as Ensemble
- Tristan Champion Regini (DCPA’s A Christmas Carol) as Youth Understudy
- Timothy John Smith (NBC’s “The Blacklist”) as Hawker/Ensemble
- Olivia Sullivent (DCPA’s A Christmas Carol) as Ensemble
- Erin Willis (Off-Center’s The Wild Party) as Ensemble
- Owen Zitek (DCPA’s A Christmas Carol) as Youth Tommy.
- Samuel Bird and Radley Wright will share the role of Young Tommy at age 4
- Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend
- Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
- Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
- Directed by Sam Buntrock
- Choreography by Katie Spelman (Oklahoma at Goodspeed Opera House)
- Musical direction by Gregg Coffin (DCPA’s Sweeney Todd)
- Scenic design by Jason Sherwood (DCPA’s Frankenstein, Off-Center’s The Wild Party)
- Costume design by Kevin Copenhaver (DCPA’s Frankenstein)
- Lighting design by David Weiner (Stephen King’s Misery on Broadway)
- Sound design by Ken Travis (Broadway’s Aladdin)
- Projection design by Alex Basco Koch (Broadway’s Irena’s Vow)
- Fight direction by Geoffrey Kent (DCPA’s This Is Modern Art)
- Vocal and dialect coaching by Kathryn G. Maes Ph.D (DCPA’s The Secret Garden)
- Stage Management by Kurt Van Raden
- Assistant Stage Management by Corin Ferris and Michael Morales.
Even the house band will be filled with big names and local talent. DeVotchKa drummer Shawn King had so much fun playing (and having his throat sliced) each night during Sweeney Todd, he is coming back to play in the pit for Tommy. Other local rockers will include Jason Tyler Vaughn, David Devine, Dan Graber, Matthew Scheffelman, Daniel Schwindt and Angela Steiner.
Mientus said he is especially happy for the chance to return to Denver since the Spring Awakening tour did not afford him much time to explore. “I loved the energy of the city, but it was too brief and too cold,” he said. “This time, I’m going to do it all.”
The first public preview performance of The Who’s Tommy is April 20, a fluke of the calendar that has not escaped Mientus. “If I may be so cheeky,” he said, “it’s not lost on me that we’re doing our first performance a psychedelic rock show in Denver on 4/20. I expect we may get a few audience members in who do not usually see live theater, and I think that is always something worth celebrating.”
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
The Who’s Tommy: Ticket information
Based on The Who’s iconic 1969 rock concept album, Tommy is an exhilarating musical about the challenges of self-discovery and the resilience of the human spirit. When young Tommy retreats into a world of darkness and silence after a deeply traumatic incident, he must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world with no hope of recovery. But when he discovers a newfound talent for pinball, he’s swept up in the fame and fortune of his success. Tommy and his family give new voice to The Who’s classic stadium rock as they navigate the troubles and joys of being alive.
- Presented by DCPA Theatre Company
- Performances Apr 20-May 27
- Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
- Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE