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“See Me, Feel Me.”
New York audiences will get another shot at that sensory experience when The Who’s Tommy returns to Broadway in 2021. Producers Hal Luftig and Patrick Catullo announced Monday that the classic rock opera spawned out of the Brit rock royalty’s 1969 concept album will return in a new production, again directed by Des McAnuff, who was instrumental in developing the material for the stage.
The show sprang out of a meeting with The Who guitarist and singer-songwriter Pete Townshend in 1991, when McAnuff was artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California. They collaborated on a book for the stage musical, which features music and lyrics by Townshend. It premiered at La Jolla in summer 1992, becoming an instant hit.
The production transferred to Broadway the following spring and went on to win five Tony Awards, including best original score for Townshend and best direction of a musical for McAnuff, as well as scenic design, lighting and choreography. (It lost out on best musical to Kiss of the Spider Woman.)
Featuring such songs as “Pinball Wizard,” “Acid Queen,” “Listening to You” and “I’m Free,” the material was popularized not only by the album and the band’s live performances but also in the 1975 Ken Russell cult film that starred The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey alongside Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed, with appearances by Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson.
The show tells the story of a British Army captain’s young son, Tommy Walker, traumatized into apparent deafness and blindness and subjected to neglect, abuse and drugs before finding fame as a pinball champion and eventual spiritual leader.
“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 antihero ground zero,” continued McAnuff. “He is the boy who not only rejects adulthood like Holden Caulfieid 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 with Tommy Walker.”
McAnuff and Townshend recently reunited at an Oct. 14 one-night-only benefit concert performance of the musical at La Jolla Playhouse, marking the album’s 50th anniversary.
Further information on the Broadway revival, including casting, venue, dates and additional creative team, is to be announced.
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