The impact of the influential 1969 rock opera TOMMY by The Who is incalculable insofar as its impact on perceptions of what modern musical storytelling could be and the way it shaped the way theatre music was received by audiences at large, and that is due in no small part to the awe-inspiring attributes of Pete Townshend's seminal, still timeless score. "Pinball Wizard" to "Acid Queen" to "Listening To You" and beyond, the multitude of strong melodies and potent messages in the psychedelic show continue to be compelling and absorbing - and the success of the show has continued beyond its multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway production: GLEE takes on the unforgettable Act One closer tonight, "Pinball Wizard".
The story of a young boy struck deaf, dumb and blind as a direct result of witnessing his mother's infidelity - and the subsequent murderous fallout resulting between her husband and her lover - who then goes on an "amazing journey" of sensory deprivation - and drug abuse, molestation, chemical testing and physical torture, as well - ultimately resulting in his ascent to fame as a pinball-playing whiz, and, after his mother smashes the mirror he is transfixed with, he emerges as a modern-day Jesus-like prophet is strange subject matter indeed for a musical, yet it works. Des McAnuff along with TOMMY mastermind composer/lyricist Pete Townshend transformed the narrative-driven concept album into a full-bodied Broadway musical in 1992 and the result was a win in the Best Score category for Townshend - a tie with that year's big winner, the Kander & Ebb/Hal Prince KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN - as well as wins in the technical categories and for the choreography of Wayne Cilento and direction of Des McAnuff, represented on Broadway this year with his hi-tech JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR revival, perhaps the most famous rock opera in existence besides TOMMY.
Sample the supremely accomplished original cast of TOMMY in this exhilarating musical performance from the 1993 Tony Awards led by Michael Cerveris - who would go on to win a Tony Award ten years later for ASSASSINS and is nominated this year for EVITA - in his stunning Broadway debut.
As a special bonus, check out the cover of TOMMY's "Pinball Wizard" that will be featured in one of two brand new episodes of GLEE tonight.
So, what do you think is the reason for the multi-generational appeal and ongoing allure of the moving and mystifying TOMMY? Has that original cast - featuring recent Tony-winners Alice Ripley and Christian Hoff, as well as two of this year's nominees, Norm Lewis and Michael Cerveris - ever been surpassed insofar as sheer star-on-the-rise wattage? Has a rock score ever worked so remarkably well in a theatrical setting while still crossing over to the mainstream? Furthermore, who really owns "Pinball Wizard" - The Who's Roger Daltry, Elton John from Ken Russell's film version, Unique from GLEE, or, just maybe, Broadway's Cousin Kevin, Anthony Barrile? Most of all: is it time for a revival of The Who's TOMMY, especially as it approaches its twentieth anniversary since its Broadway bow this year? It seems high time to take the amazing journey once again.