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May 15, 2008|Charles McNulty | Times Theater Critic

Two ROCK musicals will amp up the summer, one a classic from an all-time great band, the other a world premiere about the racial politics of the birth of rock 'n' roll. As for substantive new dramas, two emerging playwrights tackle subjects that are sure to spark vigorous discussion, if not heated debate.

A new mounting of the "The Who's Tommy" opens at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre on June 20 for a two-week run. The marvelous Alice Ripley, who was in Des McAnuff's original Broadway production, joins a cast that includes Nona Hendryx as the Acid Queen and Aleks Pevec as Tommy. But what might make the experience unique is the use of 3-D Sound, a new audio system that suggests what really cool Sensurround might be like -- plugged directly into your body. (ricardomontalban theatre.org)

"Memphis," a new musical written by Joe DiPietro and composed by Bon Jovi's David Bryan, opens at the La Jolla Playhouse on Aug. 19 under the direction of Christopher Ashley. The show, which mixes gospel, R&B and early rock, sets out to reveal how, in Ashley's words, "white people stole black music." It might be well-trodden ground, but a jamming score could persuade us to open our ears again. (lajolla playhouse.org)

The second installment of Cornerstone Theater Company's Justice Cycle arrives with the world premiere of Julie Myatt's "Someday" on June 6. The play, directed by Michael John Garces, juxtaposes a disabled woman's fight to adopt an abandoned baby with an L.A. couple struggling to have its own. Rest assured that Cornerstone's compassion and inclusiveness will be combined with a hot-button fearlessness. (cornerstone theater.org)

Finally, Tanya Barfield, author of "The Blue Door" -- whose quiet intelligence impressed many when it premiered at South Coast Repertory in 2006 -- has a new play, "Of Equal Measure," opening at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on July 11. The story concerns an African American stenographer in Woodrow Wilson's White House whose professional obligations conflict with public conscience. No need to fear a dry social studies lesson from Barfield -- this writer has a gift for humanizing history. (centertheatregroup.org)

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