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'Quadrophenia' producer: his coming-of-stage story

Bill Schultz heard the Who's opera at age 14. Now he's mounting a two-day run, at a loss.

November 18, 2005|Christopher Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

Like a lot of middle-aged guys not in show business, Bill Schultz has listened to his favorite Who album thousands of times, imagining how he'd like to see it done live.

But here's where he parts ways with all those other not-in-showbiz guys. His album of choice is "Quadrophenia," a two-disc musical chronicle of teen sex, drugs, violence and identity crisis that dates to 1973. And the 46-year-old Schultz, a frustrated writer grown wealthy in the medical supply trade, is spending six figures to put his fantasy "Quadrophenia" on a stage for just two nights.

The venture, which includes no actual members of the Who, is mathematically certain to lose money.

Yet for this mission, Schultz has enlisted a soup-to-nuts team of collaborators that includes the foremost (and perhaps only) Who tribute band west of the Mississippi, the former manager of KISS (co-producer Bill Aucoin) and the man who often plays Jesus at the Crystal Cathedral's holiday pageants (Peter Uribe, who is directing, not acting, in this show).

To help them get ready for their performances tonight and Saturday at the Grove of Anaheim ("Quad -- A Spectacular Tribute to the Who's 'Quadrophenia' "), Schultz has thrown open the doors to the warehouse in Santa Ana where his company stores operating tools and freeze-dried human bones and tissues for future procedures.

Rehearsing there one recent night, the musicians of the Who Show (that's the tribute band's name) set the bones and screws atremble with primal screams, guitar barrages and combat-intensity drumming.

In the training room next door, director Uribe ordered half a dozen slithering female dancers into positions around lead actor and singer Stephen Shareaux, who plays Jimmy, a conflicted British teen in 1964. He pops a lot of pills, hops a 5:15 train to Brighton and finds himself in a mortal fix down at the sea.

"Uppers and downers / Either way blood flows!" sang Shareaux, a boombox supplying the backing track. (A longtime player in the L.A. music scene with such hard-rock bands as Kik Tracee and Revel8, Shareaux won the role in an audition.)

With these sounds echoing down the halls, Schultz, who has no onstage role in this vanity production, strolled room to room in black slacks and blazer, chin in hand, gazing silently in that poker-faced way that executive producers do when opening is a week away.

"I've staged it 100 times in my head," Schultz said.

Along with six musicians, there are two-dozen actors and dancers. There are 14 songs, stage sets with moving parts, a hallucinogenic bit on a train. Schultz is guessing the whole production will cost about $260,000. Even if it sells out the 1,400-seat Grove (tickets run $22.50 to $67.50), it will lose about $160,000. Nine days before curtain, Schultz said, the house was half sold.

The entrepreneur in Schultz hopes this risk will lead to "a second life" as a touring production or a Vegas engagement. It doesn't hurt, he figures, that Warner Video has just released a DVD of the Who performing songs from "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" in 1989, 1996 and 1997. (And this is, after all, a guy whose privately held companies employ about 50 people and grossed "tens of millions" of dollars last year.)

But the grown-up kid in him, the one who first heard "Quadrophenia" as a 14-year-old at Maplewood Junior High in St. Paul, Minn. -- that kid mostly wants the world to understand that, as Schultz put it, "this is a rock 'n' roll masterpiece. I need to get that message to the people who haven't heard it."

"He is nuts," said Bob Schultz, his younger brother and operations manager for the medical supply company. It was Brother Bob who had to rearrange the surgical supplies to make room for the drum kit with the double bass.

"It went from just a few guys to this," said Bob Schultz, waving a hand to indicate the spotless building's nighttime tableau of preening dancers and slouching musicians.

For all its ambition, "Quadrophenia" has long lived in the shadow of the Who's other, earlier, opus of screen and stage, "Tommy." The original two-record "Quadrophenia" album featured a short story by composer Pete Townshend and illustrated the tale with moody black-and-white photos. But the music was difficult to perform and didn't strike listeners with the immediate authority of earlier anthems like "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." Despite a 1979 film and a revival of the tunes on Who tours in 1996 and 1997, "Quadrophenia" has taken a back seat. Two years ago, when Rolling Stone's editors offered up a top-500 list of their favorite albums ever, "Quadrophenia" finished in 266th place.

Schultz, of course, would put it far higher. His theatrical adventure began, he said, when he was steered by a friend to a November 2004 show in Long Beach by the Who Show. Later he hired the band to play a Christmas party at his house. When drummer France DiCarlo suggested Schultz put some money behind the band, Schultz came back with a counterproposal: "Quadrophenia."

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