Pacific Players Production of TOMMY

L. Bird pkeets at
Wed Aug 4 19:57:44 CDT 2004

For Pete's Sake

The Pacific Players delve deep into Townshend's meaning and method for their 
production of 'Tommy'

By Rebecca Patt

The Pacific Players want to make Pete Townshend proud. And they've got so 
much confidence in their production of his rock opera Tommy that they're 
even going to invite him to see it. Considering he'll be in the area on 
opening night, there's even a chance that he might.

Fresh from their recent production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, most of 
the group has had some experience with 1960s musicals. Director Greg Harbert 
believes that Santa Cruz is ready for Tommy, given how recent audiences at 
the Rio Theatre were gung-ho for performances of The White Album and Rubber 
Revolver. The group will perform Tommy at the Rio Theatre three times over 
the next two weekends plus one show at a nightclub in San Francisco.

With the emphasis foremost on the music, a full rock band will bring classic 
Tommy hits like "Pinball Wizard," "Amazing Journey" and "Go to the Mirror" 
to life, and the show will delve into a range of provocative themes 
including the quests for identity, belonging and spiritual enlightenment.

Harbert says that they are striving for a clear narrative that answers any 
questions audiences might have from past versions, such as why the central 
character Tommy is deaf, dumb and blind. And he took the time to answer 
Metro Santa Cruz's questions, as well.

METRO SANTA CRUZ: What is your quest?

GREG HARBERT: Our quest, and meaning the whole cast and the creative crew 
behind Tommy, was to really create the quintessential version of the show. 
There are several versions that have been created. On May 16, 1969, the 
vinyl came out, and not long after that there was a symphonic version that 
came out, there was a ballet that was created, then a film was made in '75, 
and in the '90s out came the Broadway musical. And we've pored over each of 
these versions. Each one is different. Each one took the original vinyl and 
threw different takes on it, and yet we found that none of them exactly 
seemed to create a narrative structure that seemed clear. So when we were 
creating the libretto for our version, we took those versions and literally 
hodgepodged bits and pieces from all of them, rearranged the order of the 
songs and did all kinds of work to try to create a narrative structure that 
seemed to really have a flow with the characters and the story line that 
clearly created a story about Tommy himself, and then we read all these 
interviews with Pete Townshend who wrote most of it, and tried to get his 
take on what he was trying to create.

What do you think Pete Townshend would say about your version?

Well, we've talked a lot about that because he'll be almost in town. The Who 
will be at the Shoreline on our opening night, so we are going to send them 
a telegram and invite them over. That's just a symbolic gesture, probably, 
but we decided what the heck, we'll do that, because we do believe that 
he'll see it. Sometimes an artist learns a lot from their work and other 
people's interpretation and how they see it, and I think he would be 
pleased. I think he would be excited and glad that we worked so hard to try 
to develop the narrative and tried so hard not to think, 'What do we think?' 
you know; we tried to really dive into all of his comments, and I think in 
the end he would really find it interesting at worst and maybe hopefully 
love it at best.

Did you try to emulate the Who when you chose the band?

Tommy is interesting because the music is like a character; it's like an

invisible character. We have the dances trying to represent that, and when 
we start with the overture we have nothing else happening on stage, it's 
just rock & roll. It starts off like a rock concert, and that's basically 
saying this is about the music, as if we are not going to do anything else, 
but let you sit down and listen to this incredible, incredible rock & roll, 
brilliant stuff. We are not going to have the band necessarily completely 
emulate the Who because a lot of the best musicians are not necessarily 
people who think of themselves as theatrical performers, so we have to kind 
of meet that halfway. So they are off to the side when they perform. I'm 
going to try to get them to do an exciting visual performance as much as 
they can. I'm going to try to get them to emulate aspects of the Who, and 
I've talked with the musical director Ed [Levy] and he seems to really 
understand that, and so whenever we are talking about the music, I'm making 
sure that he's being really conscientious that when it's a rock & roll 
moment, it's going to be a rock & roll moment. When we need an outrageous 
guitar lead, it's going to be an outrageous guitar lead.

Now for the existential question: Who is Tommy?

Tommy is really all of us. Tommy is what would happen if we were raised in a 
world without prejudice, if we were not brainwashed and programmed and 
patterned into a certain set of belief structures, and I think this is Pete 
talking here. We all carry the essence of the messiah, and whoever you want 
to call the messiah, whoever you want to call the savior, we all have that 
inside of us. Tommy was his vehicle for trying to express that, and it turns 
out that Tommy really is all of us on our amazing journeys, and in a sense 
Tommy really becomes every person like in the old medieval plays the 
characters were just called Everyman.

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