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B-Slade Rocks In “The Who’s Tommy’ At San Diego Rep

B. Slade has morphed again, something he does at least once a decade. “Every ten years I go through a reinvention, an absolute change,” he says. This time the San Diego-born singer-songwriter-record producer-arranger-rapper-choreographer-dancer-musician formerly known as Tonex or Ton3x (pronounced Toe-nay), is realizing what he considers his greatest achievement to date—his first starring role in one of his favorite musicals in his own city.

B.Slade, stars as Tommy in the Who's classic rock opera.

Above: B.Slade, stars as Tommy in the Who's classic rock opera.

A two-time Grammy nominated musical artist, B. Slade has won eight Stellar Awards, and built a reputation for blending pop, R&B, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, rock, Latin, electro and punk with flamboyant fashion statements ranging from close cropped hair and conservative suits to feather boas, extravagant headpieces and platform shoes. One of the nation’s top cutting-edge Gospel artists, he released hundreds of songs--under different names--on 24 albums in less than two decades. His latest album, “Diesel,” his seventh since 2009, just came out this week.

Now he is starring in the title role of the “deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball” in the classic rock opera “The Who’s Tommy,” which opened last week to thunderous applause at the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage.

“I couldn’t have played this role three years ago,” he said in between tech rehearsals, in the subterranean Horton Plaza theatre lobby. “Tommy is missing three senses, and relies on vibrations, sensations, and energy.” Thinking about it, he realized that in his own way, “I was deaf, dumb and blind to the world around me.”

One of Gospel music’s brightest rock stars, B. Slade fell from grace within the conservative Christian arena when he, as he says, “told the truth” about his morphing sexuality in an evangelical television interview. “I gave up a big musical career to be who I am. But I can’t imagine living any other way. Not that I have broken away from faith, but I have broken away from man’s dogma as a mediator of my faith.”

Born to Anthony and E.B. Williams in 1975, the youngest of six boys, Slade was steeped in music from childhood. Before finding Christ and becoming ministers in Spring Valley, his parents were professional musicians; his father played saxophone for James Brown and his mother sang in Motown girl groups. His love of theater started early, as a student at Spring Valley Middle School that continued at Monte Vista High School.

B. Slade has already won two of San Diego’s top acting awards. In 2008, he won both the Patté Award for Outstanding Performance for “Dreamgirls,” and the San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Award Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical for “Dreamgirls” and the World Premiere “The Princess & the Black-Eyed Pea,” both at the Rep.

After the awards ceremony, Sam Woodhouse, SD Rep’s artistic director, pulled him aside and told him he wanted to build a show around him. Two and half years later, Woodhouse called and told him he had a project in mind for him. When Slade learned what it was he said, “I was in. I told Sam to let me know when he wanted me to audition, and he said, ‘you’ve got the part. It’s yours.’”

And indeed it is. The San Diego Repertory Theatre’s season opener plays through August 14 at the Lyceum Stage in Horton Plaza, in partnership with the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. It’s one of the Rep’s best productions in its 36 seasons, and B. Slade is only one of the reasons.

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