This won’t be your typical high school production. In fact, some 42 students involved in Old Forge High School’s spring musical are intent on making history — bringing the first ever rock opera to the district’s stage.
“What’s the best way to teach a child,” questioned director Paige Balitski. “Challenge them.”
Rehearsing since late February, students have been rising to Balitski’s challenge, tapping into the world of a fictional pinball wizard named “Tommy.”
A rock musical based on The Who’s 1969 album of the same name, “Tommy,” debuted on Broadway on April 22, 1993, earning 11 Tony award nominations and winning best original score (tie), best scenic design, best lighting design, best choreography and best direction of a musical that year.
Balitski admits the story isn’t a typical tale for a high school production. Only two words in the entire script were censored.
“This is the first year we have ever done this type of a production,” said ninth-grade student Andie DeSando, who plays Tommy’s mother, Mrs. Walker. “It’s a rock opera. I am excited. Sure it’s different, but I think it’s going to be the best.”
The cast extends itself beyond the boundaries of the high school as well, involving students from the elementary level who also tried out.
First-grade student Stone Cordiano, who plays the youngest Tommy, is looking forward to his first time under the bright lights, hoping to impress his parents.
“My dad is sort of an actor,” Cordiano said during a break from a recent rehearsal. “He was in a show at Disney and I want to be an actor, I think, when I grow up.”
Nick Erasmus, a third-grade student, said the district’s music teacher encouraged him to tryout for the production after hearing him sing.
“He really encouraged me,” Erasmus said, adding that working with the older students was not at all scary. “I’m not nervous around them. It’s fun.”
Perhaps it’s being around student stage veterans like senior Josh Woolaver, who has been in four previous productions, marking his fifth — and final — as Mr. Walker, Tommy’s father.
“I tell the younger ones, don’t allow yourself to be scared and only expect the best from yourself,” he said.
Balitski, who has been working in theater for many decades, shared how proud she is of the students involved in the Old Forge production.
“I’m used to working with theater kids,” she said. “These are high school kids. They do a play once a year. They have worked hard. This is hard material. This is a real teaching kind of play and they’ve risen to the challenge. It’s been a challenge for them and it’s been a challenge for me.”
“Tommy” will be presented at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.