This August, Victorian Opera is set to present the Australian premiere of five-time Tony Award-winning musical The Who’s Tommy. Ahead of it’s Melbourne season, we sat down with the production’s star Mat Verevis to learn a bit more about the show.
For those unfamiliar, The Who’s Tommy is based on English rockers The Who’s legendary 1969 concept album Tommy. The band’s fourth studio album – and hailed as their breakthrough – Tommy is a rock opera that tells the story of Tommy Walker, a “deaf, dumb and blind” boy, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family. It has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, and in 1998 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value”.
As for its onstage incarnation. The Who’s Tommy follows a similar storyline – Tommy’s traumatic childhood leaves his senses paralysed, but despite being deaf, dumb and blind, the teenager plays a mean pinball game. His extraordinary talent catapults him to international superstardom in this inspiring story of hope, healing, and triumph over adversity.
It first opened in San Diego in 1992, making its Broadway theatre debut the following year at St James Theatre. There have also been productions in Canada, Germany, in the West End, and in many other cities around the UK and US.
But not until this year has The Who’s Tommy made its way to Australia.
In a role approved by The Who’s Pete Townshend himself, rising theatre star Mat Verevis (A Little Night Music, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Nine Network’s The Voice) is set to take on the role of Narrator/Tommy.
He’ll be joined by musical theatre icon Matt Hetherington (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Gypsy) returning to the Australian stage after several years in the United States, as Captain Walker and leading lady Amy Lehpamer (School of Rock, The Sound of Music) as Mrs. Walker.
Legendary performer Paul Capsis takes on the iconic role of The Gypsy (Acid Queen), with Kanen Breen (Black Rider, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Uncle Ernie and Vincent Hooper (The Rocky Horror Show) as Cousin Kevin.
We sat down with Tommy himself, Mat Verevis to take a look behind the scenes of this extraordinary musical production.
Let’s start with an intro – could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in The Who’s Tommy?
Mat Verevis: “I was born and raised in Cairns and that’s where I started doing amateur musical theatre shows and caught the bug. I then went on to study at WAAPA when I was 19, and moved to Sydney afterwards.
“It took me a little while after graduating to find my feet in the industry but finally got my main stage break in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and I’m so happy to be back after playing Henrik in A Little Night Music which was my first production with Victorian Opera. My role in The Who’s Tommy is Tommy but also doubles as the narrator of his own story in his earlier years.”
What can you tell us about The Who’s Tommy?
“This show is quite special and unique in that it sits in a place where it’s not totally a rock concert, a play, or music theatre but it steals all the best elements from these and brings to life this incredible story found within a classic rock album. It’s exciting, it’s nostalgic, and it’s surprisingly moving.”
What has the experience of transporting yourself into the ‘60s and into the world of Tommy been like so far?
“It’s actually been one of my favourite things about this process so far. Classic albums like The Who’s Tommy are such time capsules of an era.
“I wasn’t a big rock head growing up, so I missed listening to this album as a teen, so I am loving diving into the music and hearing all these iconic guitar sounds and defining colours of a musical era.
“As for Tommy, the story is such an interesting one, at first glance a lot of it can be missed but it’s not until you unpack it that you really start to be moved by its greater metaphor. It’s brilliant and I think that’s why it adapts to a stage show so well.”
The album the show is based on was seemingly made for a setting like this – what are some of your favourite moments or songs to be a part of?
“Absolutely. There’s an innate theatrically to the music. It’s all through the album and score so it really is a seamless transition. We are currently staging ‘Sensation’, where Tommy and everyone first realise that he’s a Pinball Wizard – and I have to say not just the music but also Dana Jolly’s choreography and staging of this number is absolutely smoking!”
Do audiences have to be familiar with The Who’s original album to enjoy or understand the show?
“No, absolutely not. Of course, maybe someone who knows the album intimately might have an extra layer of nostalgia or be much more familiar with the story, but this show has also been carefully adapted to the stage so all people will enjoy it.”
As well as the much-celebrated album, there is also the 1975 film and a number of productions around the world. What can Australian fans expect from our upcoming iteration?
“This is a completely original staging and Australian cast. The musical has never been performed here before and the stage show varies slightly from the film. On top of that, you just can’t beat live shows! Especially in the Palais Theatre. It’s going to be electric.”
After watching The Who’s Tommy, what do you hope audiences take away from the show?
“I hope everyone takes something different away. For some, it will be more about the music, and for others it’ll be finally seeing the story within the album come to life – BUT the overarching message of overcoming adversity I think is of particular poignance (especially at the moment) and something the show conveys brilliantly.”
See Mat Verevis in The Who’s Tommy when it opens at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre from Friday 13 August until Saturday 21 August. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster.com.au.