Townshend takes ‘Tommy’ to the Broadway stage
[I The ‘Who’ guitarist-
his 1969 rock opera
By Jon Paulo:
New York limes
IT'S star time. At a party for the
forthcoming Broadway production
of the Who's rock opera “Tommy,”
performers and friends are half-dane-
ing in the basement of the West Bank
Cafe while the show’s leads sing “Pin-
ball Wizard” and “I'm Free.”
Sitting in with the band is a middle-
aged man with the short hair and bony
careworn face of a penitent in a Hi-
eronymous Bosch painting. strumming
an acoustic guitar.
When he steps forward to sing “Save
It for Later” by the English Beat. his
voice is a choirboy tenor, and as the
song revs n he suddenly fixes the
audience wit a stare from his earnest
blue eyes. The song's chorus re ts
“Don't let me down” perhaps a oeen
times, and he is soon singing the line
with bsletul sincerity, turnin the
those who will periorm “Tommyf his
1909 magnum opus.
Once again, Pete Townshend had
made a catchy pop song yield wrench-
It wasn’t, as it turned out, as easy as it
looked. In a conversation the next
morning at the rehearsal hall, Town-
shend said that playing the guitar had
been agony. “It hurt like bloody hell.”
Townshend, who is 47, has been
spending his days perched on a stool
Members Of the Grateful Dead lend
Weir. Townshend and Bill Kneuizmcm.
observing at rehearsals Every so often
he will break his silence to confer with
a singer or Des McAnuli, the show's
director, with whom he co-wrote the
book for the new production.
The story of Tommy Walker —— who
is struck deaf, dumb and blind. is
cured, and becomes a kind of messiah
— is a parable of innocence and disiliu
sionment that was embraced by the
"romm " has already been a multi.
miliion-se album. a concert sta ie
for the Who. an allstar produc n
featui'ing the London Symphony 0T1
support to Pete Townshend mm at a
preview 01 the Who rock opera 'Tommy.‘ From left are J
chestra, a hallucinatory Ken Russell
film (in 1975) and a West End theatrical
mounting (in 1979). Now. Townshend's
pinball-playing hero is on the Broad-
way stage. ~
The pain in the composer's arm
helped bring “Tommy” to Broadway.
“In September 1991." he explained. ‘l
fell off a bike and smashed up my wrist.
To get flexibility back has taken a long,
ion time, and unfortunately it‘s not
rea 1y quite right. I can’t twist my hand
in certain ways; i can't turn the palm
upward. It‘s a problem for playing the
guitar, because now there are certain
things i can’t do. On the upstroke, the
angle is wrong. and the pick goes flying
out of my hand.
“My great vanity was that I could do
things on the acoustic guitar nobody
else could, little flamencoy things, and
I can ‘t do them anymore.”
While recuperating from the acci-
dent. Townshend f inally took notice of
one of the many requests for rights to
Bresent “Tommy. " It came from the
ace Theatrical Group, which with
their partners, Dodger Productions.
brought him together with McAnuft
and became co-producers oi the show.
“It you do find a good director."
Townshend told them, the moment
“feels like it could be right, since i
would have some time to work on it.
And as soon as 1 met Des McAnuft,l
knew he was the right director."
Using computers and video technolo-
gy to envelop the action in a barrage of
.and scenery that dances as
muc as the cast, McAnuft directed a
virtually sold-out “Tommy” at the La
Jolla Playhouse in California last July
After significant revisions— including
a new ending and a new song-
“foxnmy' started previews last week at
the St. Jama Theater. with an Official
opening set for April 22.1‘hecastof!)
many from the La Jolla roduction
making their Broadway ebuts. in
cludes Michael Cerveris as the grown
As the songwriter and mm
the Who from 196! until 8t‘l'ltie mg;
band' 5 retirement in 1%, Townm
changed the course of rock mm. The
Who's early singles were “plosive- '47
hard rock with Roger Danny.
vent tenor and the peeling M