The Who's “Tommy” was first released as an album in 1969 and the rock opera about the pinball playing “deaf, dumb and blind” Tommy Walker was later translated into a opera production, a film and a Broadway musical.
The Palos Verdes Performing Arts’ concert series at the Norris Theatre continues with “Tommy,” from Jan. 24 to 26. The production, directed by Kristin Chandler with musical direction by Sean Bart, features an 8-piece rock band, the music and dialogue from the original musical, but is performed with limited scenery and stage action.
Cody Kelepolo plays Tommy as a teen and young adult.
“This story revolves around a young boy growing up into a young man who is deaf dumb and blind due to a horrible tragedy he had to witness... throughout the show you see the ensemble kind of taking advantage of Tommy for his disabilities and not given him a chance to really express himself in any way,” Kelepolo said.
A Colorado native, Kelepolo moved to Los Angeles in 2018 to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy where he's pursuing a BFA in Music Theater.
But he wasn't introduced to musical theater until his mother, Karen, died from breast cancer in 2010 when he was about 11 years old. His parents were involved with professional theater for years until he was born and they “stopped theater and planted roots to start a family.”
When he landed the role of Tommy, Kelepolo found out his mother had played Mrs. Walker in a production of “Tommy.”
“The last thing she told me was to use music as a way to express myself,” recalled Kelepolo, adding that his father Adam would become his mentor during his high school days.
“At the time, I was playing guitar, drums, piano. While it was a great outlet for me, it was when I auditioned for my first show in high school, 'The Wizard of Oz,' I ended up playing the Wizard. Even though it wasn't the biggest role ever, I realized that whenever I was onstage you're doing the show in a way I felt that my mom was closer to me and somehow I felt this was what I was meant to do.”
According to his bio, Kelepolo played Percy Blakeney in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables,” and Mortimer Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace” while living in Colorado Springs. He also sang in the Colorado All State Choir for two years.
Other credits include playing Nick Piazza in Jose Fernandez’s musical, “Fame,” Sam Wheat in Bruce Joel Rubin’s musical, “Ghost” and Radames in Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical “Aida.”
Kelepolo said he loves singing the rock genre in productions like “Aida” and “Ghost,” which he said help him prepare for “Tommy.”
“You can get that raw emotion from the music that's written,” Kelepolo said.
The Norris Theatre is located at 27570 Norris Center Drive in Rolling Hills Estates.
The production is rated “R” and is not recommended for young audiences. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. Ticket prices are $35 to $70.