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Pete Townshend on the return of

Tooba Shakir 2 months ago 0 0

Pete Townshend’s musical “Tommy” is back on Broadway. The Who’s original rock opera about a “Pinball Wizard” has been reimagined for 2024, but it’s still one of those rare Broadway shows where you already know the words to just about every song.

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A scene from the Broadway revival of “Tommy,” starring Ali Louis Bourgzui.

“The Who’s Tommy”


“Tommy” is the story of young Tommy Walker, who – after witnessing a murder – shuts down emotionally and becomes “deaf, dumb and blind” … and a pinball prodigy, who is healed, in part, by seeing his reflection in a mirror.

Nearly all of it was written in the late ’60s by Pete Townshend, who was then in his early 20s.

It was made into a flashy, surreal movie in 1975 starring The Who, and a who’s-who of entertainment, including Elton John, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret; and in 1993, director Des McAnuff convinced Townshend to take it to Broadway, where it won five Tony Awards.

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Iterations of “Tommy”: The Who’s 1969 album, which was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame; the 1975 film directed by Ken Russell; the 1993 stage version, which won five Tonys; and now, “Tommy” is back on Broadway.   

CBS News


Townshend and McAnuff are together again, and now, with the world seemingly obsessed with looking at itself, both are convinced that “Tommy” is more relevant today than ever.

Smith asked McAnuff, “Were you at all concerned that people would see this as a nostalgia show?”

“Yes, absolutely,” he replied, adding, “It was less about, ‘Oh, let’s, you know, rework it for a modern audience.’ It was that everybody’s wandering around staring into a mirror trying to escape a hostile universe, albeit it’s a black mirror. But it resonates in a new way. There’s a pertinence now that we didn’t think it necessarily [had] 30 years ago.”

In Townshend’s original version, Tommy was a rock star. But a friend of Townshend’s, who was a critic (and a pinball fanatic), thought that was a tired idea. 

So, Townshend came up with a solution overnight: “I said, ‘Well, I could change it. So instead of being a rockstar, he was a pinball player. I was clutching at straws! Anyway, so next day I sent him the demo …”

“I’m sorry, next day?” asked Smith. “You just wrote it, ‘Pinball Wizard’?”

“Yeah! And he called me on the phone and he said, ‘Pete, it’s five stars and an extra ball!’ Anyway, so he gave it a great review.”

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Pete Townshend.

CBS News


Tommy is played by Ali Louis Bourgzui. And talk about a baptism of fire – it’s his first Broadway role ever. He admits meeting Townshend was intimidating: “Yeah, I really wanted to make sure that I was doing his piece justice,” he said.

It’s the same for choreographer Lorin Latarro. There’s not much dialogue in “Tommy,” so every move is important.

Asked to cite her favorite section, she replied, “We call it the rubber band section of ‘Pinball Wizard,’ (when the kids jump off the pinball machines). And some of the guys get so high off those pinball machines. It’s pretty cool!”

“Tommy” has stayed on The Who’s playlist for years now. But for Townshend, it’s always been a lot more than just an album. He’s been quoted as saying that each iteration of “Tommy” takes something out of him. “Yeah, I can’t remember the context of the quote, but I’ve said so much about it, and sometimes I chuck stuff out just to sound clever,” Townshend said.

But for example, in 2017, when The Who performed “Tommy” at the Royal Albert Hall, Townshend had an anxiety attack: “I sing ‘Acid Queen’ when The Who perform,” he said. “And I was in the middle of singing ‘Acid Queen,’ and I remembered a memory that I’d never remembered before. When I was a kid and I was staying with my crazy grandmother, I was between four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half, I was abused. And I remembered it. I’d never remembered it before. And I nearly stopped and walked off the stage. So, that kind of stuff does happen. The subject matter of ‘Tommy’ is really heavy s*** in lots of ways.”

But it’s the heaviness – and the music – that resonates with people. So now, “Tommy” is reaching yet another generation.

“When somebody says, ‘Oh, you went to see “Tommy,” what was it like?’ It’s about conveying the way that you’ve been affected,” Townshend said. “Is it important? Or is it just – dare I say it – is it just ABBA, you know? And the thing about ABBA and their success is just originally the brilliance of the music, and you tend to go no further, and story has been imposed from the outside on the music. In this case, what you actually have is a story that underpins some really great music, rock music, and pop music and a few show tunes, which is worth thinking about.”

Smith asked, “So, what are your hopes for ‘Tommy’ this time around?”

“We just hope that it will dig in for a while,” he replied. “Des and I were committed to the idea of bringing the show to Broadway with our fingers crossed, ’cause there’s lots of other great things going up. But for me, it was just for the romance.”

“The romance? What do you mean?”

“Broadway!” Townshend smiled. “You know, it’s just so great to be on Broadway!”

      
For more info:

     
Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler. 

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