Pacific Players to stage "definitive" Tommy

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu Aug 5 07:05:28 CDT 2004

>From Metroactive Live at:

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

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

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

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

Tommy will be performed on Aug. 7, 13 and 14 at 8pm at
the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets
are $15-$20. There will also be one show in San
Francisco on Aug. 12, 8pm, at 12 Galaxies, Mission St.
at 22nd, $8-$10. Tickets are available at Streetlight
Records in downtown Santa Cruz and also online at

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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