If it’s July at the Count Basie Theatre, then it must be time for the now-traditional summer musical from Phoenix Productions, the borough-based theatrical company that continues its long and productive residency at the venerable Red Bank venue.
With scores of aspiring actors of high school and college age currently between semesters, the troupe’s midsummer offerings have represented a showcase for young performers, with especially energetic and ever so slightly edgier selections (“Rent,” “Hairspray”) than the family-friendly fare (“Mary Poppins,” “Little Mermaid,”) that’s proven so successful for the Phoenix brand.
When the Count’s curtain goes up this Friday night, it will usher in a two-weekend stand for a Broadway sensation with a psychedelic countercultural pedigree: “The Who’s Tommy.”The Who’s primary songwriter and guitarist, Pete Townshend, and director Des McAnuff both won Tony awards for this 1992 adaptation of a work that dates back to the band’s 1969 double album — an ambitious “rock opera” that went on to various symphonic and screen incarnations (although the relatively stripped down stage version serves as a palate cleanser of sorts for the cheesy-fun 1975 movie).
Divorced for this production from its post-war British setting, the show details the “Amazing Journey” of Tommy Walker, a boy who goes deaf, dumb and blind to the world after witnessing a horrific scene of violence in his family home — and who inexplicably becomes a master of the pinball machine, before regaining his senses and emerging as a savior figure of sorts to a nation of disaffected youth.
The Tony-winning score includes such classic rockers as “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free,” along with music composed specifically for the stage. Eatontown’s Jonathan Jacob takes on the role of the adult Tommy in the Phoenix staging produced by Andrea Zawadzky, with Hayden Bercy and Jason Katz platooning in the part of Young Tommy, and “Middle Tommy” duties shared by Matthew Black and David Livingston.
Eric Harper (Lincroft) and Jennifer Townsend (Oceanport) appear as parents Mr. and Mrs. Walker, with Phoenix regular Victoria Keiser (the seductive Gypsy), Randy Cooper (wicked Uncle Ernie), and Paolo Arceo (sadistic Cousin Kevin) among the supporting cast under the direction of James Grausam. Joe Wajda serves as music director, with choreography by Alex Acevedo.
Performances are slated on Fridays and Saturdays (July 15, 16, 22 and 23) at 8 p.m., plus Sundays (July 17, 24) at 3 p.m. Take it here to reserve tickets ($22 – $32) to any of the individual shows, or go here for additional information on this and other programs from Phoenix Productions.