By MIKE CHAIKEN
The title character of “The Who’s Tommy” is an only child.
But the actor who plays the deaf, dumb, and blind kid on the Warner Theatre stage has a sister.
And both siblings appear in the rock musical.
Katie Chamberlain and Noel Roberge are quite familiar with standing on stage together.
“Prior to Tommy, Noel and I have been in three shows together,” said Katie, who plays the Acid Queen in “Tommy.” “We performed together and with our parents in Bristol Theater Arts’ production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ and then in the ‘Buddy Holly Story’ (Landmark Community Theatre) and most recently ‘Rock of Ages’ (Warner Stage Company).”
“We also have a band together with other members of the Rock Of Ages cast and band called Kings & Queens,” said Noel, who has the title role.
As siblings, said Katie, “I think we have a great relationship when it comes to both theater and music. We are supportive of each other, talk each other off the ledge when need be, and always have fun. It’s never a rivalry– we typically aren’t fighting for the same roles.”
“It is incredibly cooperative,” said Noel of his performing relationship with his sister. “We push each other to be better at what we do.”
But there are differences between the pair.
“Noel is definitely more confident than I am in certain aspects of performing,” said Katie. “If there’s something challenging in a role he’s playing, he takes the time to work really, really hard on it, but always telling himself that he can do it. I, on the other hand, tend to worry about things I’m not as strong in. But when I do, he always reminds me that everything’s going to be fine.”
However, Noel has a different take. “I personally don’t see much of a difference. We both aim for truthful, authentic performances. We both get nervous, we both get frustrated, but we are also both very dedicated.”
But, Katie does see some similarities between the siblings. “We have the same sense of humor, same comedic timing. Also neither of us are the greatest dancers, but we have rhythm. We are also both incredibly passionate about performing, through whichever medium we have at our fingertips. We both make music in bands… and it’s definitely in our blood. Our parents met doing musical theater, so it’s been a part of our lives from the beginning.
“I believe we inherited a certain level of stage confidence and comfort from our parents,” said Noel. “We also got our goofiness and comedic personalities from them.”
As for how she feels about the chance to perform with her brother in “Tommy,” Katie said, “Honestly, I was excited to be able to do another show with my brother, and to see him take on a very different role than others he’s played in the past.”
“When you’re the older sibling, you kind of take on a little bit of a parental role sometimes, and it’s really cool to see him get better and better every time he performs. It makes me want to be better,” sad Katie.
The original album by The Who was released in the 1960s, decades before either Noel or Katie were born. But both are quite familiar with the music.
“Noel and I are old souls,” said Katie. “We have always loved music spanning several decades.”
“I was a big Who fan growing up as a young drummer and Keith Moon had a big impact on me,” said Noel. “The music itself is fantastic and very genre neutral. It’s a rock show but has all of the elements you love about musical theater.”
As ked how he thinks the story is still relevant several decades after Pete Townsend penned it, Noel said, “It’s a real story of celebrity. Tommy’s life is a result of scarring moments that make him who he is in the end and because of that he is launched into a level of celebrity he didn’t ask for. The show deals a lot with obsession and celebrity towards the end.”
Tommy can be a complicated character for an actor because of how he develops over the course of the story, from the deaf, dumb, and blind pinball wizard to the messianic character toward the end.
“The real challenge of this character was being able to play Tommy in three different lights,” said Noel. “I act as a narrator throughout the young Tommy story storyline until it catches up to my age where I play the deaf, dumb, and blind adult Tommy. Then I get to play around with the fully aware Tommy and really invent someone,” said Noel.
“For me, getting the opportunity to play the Acid Queen was completely unexpected, and has definitely been an exciting challenge to take on,” said Katie. “That song is incredibly powerful, but the character herself is a complete trip. The Acid Queen is a brazen drug dealer and a prostitute. Tommy’s parents bring him to her to experiment with unusual cures. But that’s the reason why I love theater so much: you get to play characters that are the complete opposite of you.”
“I think what makes this show so special is a combination of the music and the fact that it pushes limits. There aren’t a lot of Broadway shows that go where this show goes at points, and I think this type of audience appreciates that. It also appeals to fans of The Who who may not be classic theater-goers,” said Noel.
“This show has a very big cult following but it has something for everybody,” said Noel.
“The Who’s Tommy” will be performed at The Warner Theatre, Main Street, Torrington from Feb. 4 to 12 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m..
For tickets and more information, go to WarnerTheatre.org