The Who’s Tommy is once again inviting audiences to see it and feel it on Broadway.
On Monday, producers announced plans for a revival of the iconic rock musical aimed at hitting Broadway in 2021. Des McAnuff, who co-wrote the book with the Who’s Pete Townshend and directed the original 1990s Broadway production, will return to helm the production.
“Our new production of Tommy will be a reinvention aimed directly at today,” McAnuff said in a statement “Tommy combines myth and spectacle in a way that truly soars. The key question with any musical is ‘Does the story sing?’ and this one most certainly does. Tommy is the anti-hero ground zero. He is the boy who not only rejects adulthood like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, but existence itself. He becomes lost in the universe as he stares endlessly and obsessively into the mirror at his own image. This gives our story a powerful resonance today as it seems like the whole world is staring into the black mirror. The story of Tommy exists all too comfortably in the 21st century. In fact, time may finally have caught up to Tommy Walker.”
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Who’s concept album Tommy, which was adapted into a film in 1975 that featured Elton John, Tina Turner, and Jack Nicholson and starred the Who’s Roger Daltrey in the title role. Tommy follows Tommy Walker, a young boy seemingly traumatized into deafness and blindness. When he becomes a pinball superstar, he is launched on a path toward fronting a messianic movement. The concept album is famous for songs like “I’m Free,” “See Me, Feel Me” and “Pinball Wizard.” The Who have been celebrating the album on their current Moving On tour, opening their show with significant excerpts from the album accompanied by a full orchestra.
After first releasing the album in 1969, the Who toured playing the album virtually in full around the world, including at the legendary Woodstock festival. Seattle Opera produced a staged production of Tommy in 1971, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the album was officially adapted for the Broadway stage. In 1991, Townshend teamed up with McAnuff, then the artistic director of San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, to develop the concept album into a stage musical. The Who’s Tommy officially opened in La Jolla in 1992, before transferring to Broadway in 1993. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Original Score for Townshend and Best Direction of a Musical for McAnuff. It also won a Grammy Award.
Producers Hal Luftig and Patrick Catullo are bringing Tommy back to Broadway, with more details, including cast, still to be announced. Broadway darlings Michael Cerveris and Alice Ripley were among the members of the original Broadway cast.