October 21, 2020

1994-02-25 – The News Leader

1994 02 25 The_News_Leader_Fri__Feb_25__1994_

‘Tommy’: Still a sensation

By RICHARD HARRINGTON

The Washington Post

Pete Townshend’s recent concep-
tual “radio opera” was titled
“Psychoderelict” and dealt with
Ray High, an aging, disaffected rock
star, and his manager’s scheme to
revive the rocker’s faltering career.
It would have been a lot easier if
High had written a rock opera 20
years before — then he could have

waited for it to open on Broadway
and bask in all its, and his, refried
glory.

Improbable, eh?

Well, “Tommy” may have been a
deaf, mute and blind boy, but time
has proved him to be as much a nat-
ural-born entrepreneur as a pinball
wizard. In fact, he’s become a fran-
chise, to the point where a justifiably
unknown California band called Ye
Olde English has been barred from
releasing “Tommy: A Rock Steady
Opera.” The group has devised a
complete “Tommy” done reggae-
style, though you’ll probably never
hear it (the few advance copies in
circulation quickly became collec-
tor’s items). Seems “Tommy” is

copyrighted as a whole work — a
“dramatico musical” — which is a
different ballgame from a licensed
single, and is further protected from
radical change, which the transfer
from rock to reggae might imply.

Of course, some critics suggest
Townshend himself made some fun-
damental changes in what is now
called “The Who’s Tommy.” The
Broadway show, winner of five
Tonys (it’s up next week for a best
musical show album Grammy), is
generally faithful to the 1969 album
— until an ending that seems to cel-
ebrate the normality of daily exist-
ence and the sanctity of family life,
two themes that would have been
difficult to identify until 1992, when
the Broadway version was put to-
gether at California’s La Jolla Play-
house.

The transformation of a classic
rock opera into a Broadway hit is re-
counted in “The Who’s Tommy:
The Musical” (from Pantheon at
$40, about halfway between the
Broadway ticket range of $20 to
$65). The lavishly illustrated book
includes the full libretto for “The

'Who’s Tommy,” extensive inter-

views with Townshend and director
Des McAnuff, an essay by Who-olo-
gist Ira Robbins, sidebars on such
show themes as autism, child abuse
and pinball, and a reprint of the
glowing review by the New York
Times theater critic (but not the
growling pan by its rock critic).
There’s also a CD single featuring
Townshend performing the one new
song he wrote for the show, “I Be-
lieve My Own Eyes.”

His own eyes might well give
Townshend a reason to believe: The
show has been setting box office
records on Broadway and on the
road. Next Christmas, the Kennedy
Center, which co-produced the
Broadway hit, opens a five-week
run; the first European production
opens in Germany next spring. On
March 6, the Disney Channel will
offer “The Who’s Tommy: The
Amazing Journey” (it premiered at
the Sundance Film Festival), and the
week of March 18, the Unistar Ra-
dio Network will offer a two-hour
“Tommy 25th Anniversary Spe-
cial.”