The Who’s Tommy Sets Revival for 2021

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Des McAnuff

The 1969 album “Tommy,” written and performed by The Who, is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. The concept album was turned into a hit Broadway musical in 1993, a fully-realized musical interpretation of the story of the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” who emerges as a miraculous pinball player. Under the guidance of director Des McAnuff, the stage production started its journey at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California in 1992 before making its way to the Great White Way. There is became a highlight of the season, winning Tony Awards for Best Director, Best Choreographer (Wayne Cilento), Best Scenic Design (John Arnone), Best Lighting Design (Chris Parry), and tied for Best Score (Pete Townshend), an honor it shared with Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.

It has been announced this rock opera will make its way back to Broadway in 2021, with McAnuff reprising his role as director in a completely reimagined production. McAnuff stated that he hopes to focus the production for a 21st century audience, giving the story “a powerful resonance today as it seems like the whole world is staring into a black mirror.” McAnuff has also directed Big River, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, Jersey Boys, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, and Ain’t Too Proud for Broadway.

The Who’s Tommy tells the story of a little boy who witnesses a horrific event and enters into a catatonic state where he is deaf, dumb, and blind. Though his parents do their best to raise him, they are frustrated by their son’s condition even as the child is subjected to abuses by family and friends. As he grows older, the boy demonstrates a knack for playing pinball, ultimately becoming a world sensation with a messianic following.

The original Broadway production of The Who’s Tommy turned the St. James Theatre into an enormous, blinking, clanging, and ringing pinball machine, with a parade of talented performers singing the rock music to the rafters. Among the original cast were two-time Tony-winner Michael Cerveris in the title role, Tony-winner Alice Ripley, Marcia Mitzman, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Cheryl Freeman, Paul Kandel, Norm Lewis, and Sherie Renee Scott. The production ran for 899 performances.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His forthcoming book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America, will hit the shelves in October, 2019. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.

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