September 26, 2020

1994-01-02 – The Des Moines Register

1994 01 02 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Jan_2__1994_

Townshend aims
-high in ‘Iron Man’

New roclt opera, done on a
low, $180,000 budget, is

meant to be a chamber-

musio piece.
By MATT WOLF
L first musical since The Who’s
“Tommy" blazed its way to
Broadway, composer Pete Town-
_shend is aiming high even as he sets
his budgets low.

“The Iron Man." the songwriter's
new rock opera at the Young Vic The-
ater through Feb. 12, inevitably draws
comparisons to “Tommy." The com-
poser, however, says he is reminded
of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 master-
work, “Sweeney Todd," which also
drew on the theme of man surviving
the machine age.

“It has those pretensions," said
Townshend, 48. “I‘ve always been
very comfortable with the idea of pre-
tentiousness; it seems to me that’s
what an most aggressively is about."

ondon, England — For his

Based on a Children’s Poem

'Townshend was talking about the
Show shortly before it opened Nov. 25
to mixed-to—negative reviews.

"Based on the 1968 children's poem
by'poet laureate Ted Hughes, “The
Iron Man" pits an earnest troupe of
urban dwellers against the machine-
Chewing Iron Man and the voracious
Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon.

(A sequel, “The Iron Woman," was
published in Britain in September.)

‘ Anthony Barclay, a young alumnus

' of the Sondheim musicals “Assassins"
and “Follies” in London, leads the 12-
perSon cast as the peace-loving Ho-
garth.

David Thacker, whose nine-year
run as artistic director at the Young
Vie ended on Aug. 2, staged and co-
adapted the production. A l7-foot~
high scrap metal contraption. with
struck headlights for eyes, appears as
the iron man, with perfomter Trevor
Michael Georges concealed inside.

While “Tommy" cost $4 million,
“The Iron Man” came in at $180,000 —-
less than the weekly break-even for
Townshend’s Tony-winning Broad-
way extravaganza.

‘“Tommy’ is very much based on ef-
fects and all the technical wizardry of
big musical theater,” Thacker, 43, said
in an interview during a rehearsal
break. “This is like a chamber music
piece . . . a purer form."

'Il'eated Like Student

Townshend came upon Hughes'
poem during a stint in the late 19705
as an editor at Faber and Faber, the
noted British publishers of Hughes,
TS. Eliot and Philip Larkin, among
many others.

“They treated me like a student,” re-
called Townshend, looking every bit
the schoolboy in his untucked plaid

As a child, the compos-
er says, he hated “0k-
lahomal” and “Seven
Brides,” too.

shirt and baseball cap worn back-
ward. “I wasn’t eaming more than the
publishing secretaries straight out of
eoflegef

With the slim salary he was earning,
Townshend told Faber chairman
Matthew Evans, “I can't live on this;
can 1 do something that will keep me
in the fold?”

By 1986, the rights to “The Iron
Man" were his A concept album fol-
lowed in 1989 Whl(h, Townshend
says, was “kind of sat on.”

Townshend initially envisioned the
stage version as a conventional book
musical, but Thacker persuaded him
to ditch a libretto and compose the
entire show, as he did with “Tommy.”

”I convinced Pete that if we
rethought the lyrics, we could ap-
proach the whole narrative through
reeitative and songs; we wouldn’t
need playwrights," Thacker said.

Pete Townshend
“Now I let my heart speak. ”

Fifteen drafts later, the show is up

and running through Feb. 12 in the ‘

400-seat theater -— a venue that. once
housed one small musical that has
since stormed the world, Andrew
Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice‘s “Joseph
and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-
coat”

His Taste: Ella, Frank

But if the musical theater has em-
braced Townshend, the composer ad-
mits he was slow to reciprocate the
affection.

“As a child, I didn’t like the music of
musicals," he said. His west London
boyhood was spent listening to Ella
Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, not “Ok-
lahoma!” and “Seven Brides for Seven
Brothers" — two shows, he says, “I
hated.”

Since then, with his own Tony
Award for “Tommy,” Townshend has
done an about-face.

“Cameron took me to see ‘Carousel
the other day, and 1 wept all the way
through it." he said of producer
Cameron Maeldntosh's acclaimed re-
vival of the 1945 Rodgers and Ham-
merstein classic.

“Now, I let my heart speak; it's
taken many years for that to happen.”

MMT WOLF wnles for the Assm iated
Press