October 27, 2020

1992-01-16 – The Los Angeles Times

1992 01 16 The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__Jan_16__1992_

Townshend to Help Restage ‘Tommy’ in La Jolla


A JOLLA—The La Jolla

I Playhouse will present a new

theatrical version of the rock

phenomenon “Tommy" in its 1992

season. the theater’s artistic direc-

tor Des McAnuff announced

The show will be conceived for
the stage by McAnuff and Pete
Townshend, lead guitarist for the
Who. Townshend wrote the music
and lyrics for “Tommy" as a com
cert piece in 1968.

The rock opera will run July
lZ-Aug. 16 in the Mandell Weiss
Theatre as the third production in
the Playhouse’s 10th anniversary

“Tommy,” a landmark in rock
history, tells a complex story about
a boy who retreatsinto autism
after being abused. He cannot see,
hear or talk, but he can feel enough
to become a pinball wizard‘ Later,
after he breaks a mirror which has
obsessed him, he retrieves his oth~
er senses and is heralded as a
messiah. ‘

Songs. lyrics and liner notes

already exist for the rock opera,
but there is no script for a theatri-
cal productionurendering it a
challenge for theater companies to
interpret and perform.
. Not that they haven't tried.
1 South Coast Repertory did a theat~
; rical production of “Tommy" in
‘ Costa Mesa in 1971. preceded by a
; production at USC just months
3 before. Saddleback College in Mis~
. sion Viejo tried it in 1987. Ken
‘ Russell even directed a movie
version in 1975.

But when Townshend helped
celebrate the 20th anniversary of
“Tommy" with the Who at the
Universal Amphitheatre in 1989.
the show was performed as a

Now, for the first time, Town-
shend wants to get personally
involved in creating a stage ver-
sion, McAnuff said this week.

“I think Pete conceived of this as
a piece that would be performed in
concert by the Who, and while
there was a possibility of the Who
performing it, I don't think he
wanted to turn his attention to the
theatrical version. But when the
Who officially retired in 1984. he
started thinking about turning his
energy into a stage production."

Townshend was not available for
comment. but said in a statement
released this week: “ ‘Tommy’ has
been a central component in my
life since I wrote it . . . So I am
passionate about seeing ‘Tommy’
grow. I am curious to see how it

translates to the stage when I am
involved in its adaptation."

McAnuff would not elaborate on
how the musical was taking shape.
saying it’s still too much in the
formative stages. -

“The object of this whole exer-
cise is to make the piece stage-
worthy. and that williinvolve a
certain amount of clarification of
the story lines," McAnuff said. “It’s
basically like directing an opera.
You have to take the responsibility
for more storytelling.

“At the same time I’m also
sensitive that ‘Tommy' is an icon
and a major symbol of pop culture.
It's a balancing act to try to come
up with the dramatic presentation
while trying to be true to the
original writing." .