September 24, 2020

1994-03-17 – The Anniston Star

1994 03 17 The_Anniston_Star_Thu__Mar_17__1994_

‘The Who’ 5 Tommy’ hits the domestic road

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By Gary Graft .
MWWTnbunewalre

“it’s a pretty far-out thing, actu-
ally.”
> Pete Townshend’s 1967
assessment of his idea for the rock
opera “Tommy” doesn’t come
close to realizing how far it would
actually go.

And how domestic it would
eventually become.

“Tommy," The Who’s album
about Townshend’s deaf, dumb and
blind character, emerged in 1969 as
an ethereal rock ’n’ roll wonder.
Dubbed an opera, it was a song
cycle about the stricken boy. It was
trippy enough to f' t the times and
oblique enough to invite inter-
pretation

Was it a parable about spiritual
quest? A study of oelebnty? A
celebration of individuality? A
statement of rebellion? A metaphor
for the late-’60s generational
schism? Yes — and no — to all of
those. “..sTommy’ ” meaning has
been malleable; even Townshend’ s
eXplanations have changed over
time as “Tommy” has become a
symphonic work and a feature film.

Now comes “The Who’ s
Tommy,” a flashy, Tony- winning
stage production. Now it has a
clearly stated and w olly unex-
peeted meaning. Fro the haze of
the rock opera, Townshend and
director Des MeAnuff have created
a musical that celebrates the nor-
mality of daily existence and the
sanctity of family life.

This message is handed to the;

audience near the end of
“Tommy.” Until that point most of
the story is the same as Townshend
and his Who mates originally came
up with. Tommy’ s father, a fighter
leot, is shot down and presumed
missing during World War II. He
returns to find that his wife has
taken a lover and kills the man.
Tommy witnesses the murder, but
when his parents tell him‘ ‘you

On stage

I What: The Who's
"Tommy"

'I Where: Fox Theatre, -
660 Peachtree St. Atlanta

I When: Today through

Sunday

I Parlormanee tlmu:
Today. 5:30 and 9:30 pm.
(EST); Frlday, 8 pm: Satur-
day. 2 and 8 pm: Sunday.

1 and 5 pm.

I Tleketa: 310-836

I lntormatlon: (404)
249-6400 or (404) 881-2100.

didn’t see ityou didn’t hear ityou
won ’t say nothing to no one,” he
becomes deaf, dumb and blind.

Despite his disabilities, Tommy
proves adept at pinball. When he
finally emerges from his autistic
state, his local celebrity explodes
into a messianic eult. But the sta e
“Tommy” switches gears when t e
title character tries to explain to his
followers that he offers neither
great insights nor philosophies.

“Why would you want to be
more like me?” he sings. “For 15
years I was waiting for what you’ve
already got. Those are the true
miracles, and you have them
already.”

At another point he exclaims
“I’m free — I’m free! And freedom
lies here in normality.”

And later, in a drastic rewriting
of the show’s finale, Tommy tells
them, “You don’t need to claim a
share of my pain.
after all.”

,“It really felt tome that l was
faced with an inevitability that I had
to end ‘Tommy,’ to close the loop,”
explains Townshend, 48, who wrote
the music and lyrics for all but three
of “Tommy’s ” songs. “I had to
remove the metaphysical stuff from

You’re normal ‘

the show because there’ s no basis
for it anymore; there’ s no authentic
and decent strain of it happening
right now. What we have is David
Koresh in Waco and other mani-
festations of that kind of
metaphysical bunkum. '

“It’s very different from the time
I started to write ‘Tommy.’ Back
then, there was real hope for
metaphysical bunkum. ln Cali-
fornia, you had your choice of 200
what looked like very smart gurus.
Where are they now? We don’t
know, do we?’

It’s not surprising that Towns-
hend would now seek to celebrate
family values with “Tommy.”
Long a ponderer of great iss‘ues

rSonal, political and social,

ownshend leans heavily on his life
for inspiration. His most recent solo
album, “Psychoderelict,” was
about art aging rock star and a
manager’s plot to revive his career.
Then with its fleshed-out Script and
softened musical bite, the staged
“Tommy” can be seen as a venting
of lessons learned during Towns-
hend’s youth. His parents separated
when they were young —- sending
Townshend to live with a strict
grandmother — only to reunite,
have more Children and live what
Townshend calls a “normal family
life.”

Or it can be seen as a reflection

. 0f Townshend’s own domestic situ-

ation. He’s been married 25 years
and has three children: two daugh-
ters in their early 205 and a 4-year-
old son. Intoxicated by
”Tommy’s ” stage success, Towns-
hend says he’s s“pul|ed by the siren
song of show biz, ” though he
Ioathes the separation from his
family.

”I don’t see myself' as a good
father or even a decent man,” he
recently told Rolling Stone. “When
I talk about the importance of
family (in ‘Tommy’). I’m just
saying, ‘I wish I could do that.’ "

It’s hard to attach this new
meaning onto such a familiar work
without polarizing reaction . -——

sometimes from the same quarters.

In The New York Times, for
instance, former theater critic Frank
Rich —— like most of Broadway’s
critical establishment — sIIIthered
praise on “The Who’s Tommy,”
while music critic Jon Pareles blasts
Townshend and McAnuff: ‘ “Their
changes turn a blast of spiritual
yearning, confusion and rebellion
into a pat on the head for nesters
and couch potatoes." III The New
Yorker, meanwhile, John Lahr
called it “a suburban shuck the
polyester version — shiny, easy to
handle and thin."

Not all rockers have reacted
negatively, however. Jon Grevatt, a
Who fan and a disc jockey at New
York’ 5 WDRIE F-M, has seen the
musical twice and plans to go back
a third time.

‘ Ultimately, McAnuff says,
Townshend’s involvement in re-
casting the opera validates any of
the changes —~ and the musical’ 5
message. “There are people who
really feel like they own this and
they don’t want anything to
change,” McAnuff says. “But Pete
certainly has the right to return to
his own work and do what he
pleases. .. .AIId wh It I think hap-
pens to those folks who are open to

‘Tommy’ is they get completely
caught up in the theater and the

music —— they're experiencing a
true development and extension of
the original album."

5/ CE 1958

‘ Oxford

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