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Paul Bunyan Playhouse: Rock opera to conclude summer theater season

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse musical "The Who's Tommy" will be the last play of the summer with a cast of 16 and seven-piece band. The play will open today and through Aug. 15 with a matinee Aug. 9. Ryan Parker Knox, center, plays the character Tommy. Other actors from left are Bonni Allen, Jessie Ladig, Aric Furfaro, Eric Heimsoth, Andy Bowers, Mac Wojtanowicz, Betsy Downs, Dan Lindtin, Erik Bergsven, Katherine Tieben and Leslie Rith-Najarian. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

To complete the 59th season for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, director Zach Curtis wanted a powerful finale and chose the rock opera "The Who's Tommy."

Inspired by The Who's 1969 double album rock opera "Tommy" by Pete Townshend, the rock musical by Townshend and Des McAnuff opened in July 1992 and won five Tony Awards in 1993. It is based on the story of a young boy traumatized by events in his life. Once discovered, Tommy's genius for pinball playing while blind, deaf and mute, sparks a breakthrough. The character of Tommy is played by three actors - Jamie Altier as a young Tommy, Shyanne Caml as the teen Tommy and finally, an adult Tommy is brought to life by Ryan Knox Parker, seen in last season's "The Music Man."

In her first experience at the Playhouse, choreographer Shannon Roberg brings intensity out in her dancers, featuring Jessie Ladig, Leslie Rith-Najarian, Elizabeth Downs, Katherine Tieben, Aric Furfaro, Eric Bergsven, Andrew Browers, Dan Lundin and Max Wojtanowicz. Musical director Jake Endres said keyboardist James McKeown, percussionist Andrew Clemenson, guitarists Jake Jackson, Joseph Papke and Luke Kuha on the bass and French horn, have contributed to "...a peak life experience...and you can quote me on that!"

Many of the songs performed by the band will be familiar to the audience, including "Pinball Wizard" "Acid Queen" and "I'm Free."

In addition to the music, dancing and acting, the performance makes extensive use of video, sound and lighting to enhance the audience's experience. The set, designed by Curtis, is large in scope because of the size of the cast - 17 actors and 6 band members.

"The Who's Tommy" has two acts with one intermission and runs today through Aug. 15 at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, located in the historic Chief Theatre, 312 Beltrami Avenue N.W. Evening performances start at 8 p.m., and tickets are $22. The Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m. Aug. 9, and tickets are $11. Student tickets are $10 for anyone younger than 21 and all tickets may be purchased through the Playhouse Box Office at 751-7270 or online at