Monday, April 22, 2013

broadway birthday TOMMY opened on Broadway 20 years ago today, April 22, 1993

What started out as a double album from the rock group The Who, which the group would also later perform in concert, Tommy was turned into the ingenious Broadway musical that opened twenty years ago today.  It was one of the most creative Broadway shows and one of the first to incorporate video elements into its production. 

The musical is the story of Tommy who is traumatized by an experience in his youth and becomes a "deaf, dumb and blind boy."  After going from doctor to doctor searching for a cure and nothing seeming to work, he eventually becomes a "pinball wizard" playing by sense rather than sight which turns him into something of an oddity.  Tommy becomes fascinated with the mirror, as if he can see himself inside of it, and when his mother smashes the mirror in frustration it manages to break Tommy free.  He becomes something of a "pseudo" Christ like figure which only draws more people to him but he realizes that he doesn't want people to follow him but instead to be themselves, which only makes his followers turn against him since they believe him to be some type of higher power.

The Who had always said they had planned for their rock opera to become a theatrical show, so under director Dec McAnuff the show first premiered at the La Jolla theatre in California in the summer of 1992.  The production then moved to Broadway in the Spring of 1993 and opened at the St. James Theatre on April 22nd.

The original Broadway cast starred Michael Cerveris as Tommy with Marcia Mitzman as his mom and Jonathan Dokuchitz as his father.  Also in the ensemble were future Broadway stars Alice Ripley, Norm Lewis, Christian Hoff and Sherie Rene Scott.  The musical was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning five including ones for Best Director and won for Best Score (which it shared with Kiss of the Spider Woman.)  The energetic choreography by Wayne Cilento also received an award as well as the high performance rock concert style lighting from Chris Parry.  John Arnone also won a Tony for his ingenious set design that not only incorporated video elements as I mentioned above but also used several large moving panels that swiftly glided across the stage and quickly changed not only the scenes but the actors as well.

While the majority of the excellent score of the musical, which includes many classic rock songs, comes from the 1969 rock album and the 1975 film, the Broadway production did include an excellent new song that Tommy's parents sing entitled "I Believe My Own Eyes."  The 1975 film is most famous for Elton John's "Pinball Wizard" and Tina Turner's "Acid Queen" and the psychedelic film style of director Ken Russell.   The Who singer Roger Daltrey played Tommy in the film with Ann-Margaret as his mother. 

Clip of the Original Broadway Cast:

The Original London cast of the show performs "Pinball Wizard" -

London cast - "Smash the Mirror"

Press reel for the First National Tour:

The Who peform Tommy in concert:

Elton John sings "Pinball Wizard" in the 1975 movie:

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