More on Pacific Players "Tommy"

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu Aug 5 07:23:00 CDT 2004

>From Santa Cruz Sentinel at:

Santa Cruz theater group re-discovers the power of
Sentinel staff writer 
Is the best way to enjoy "Tommy" to forget "Tommy" or
to re-connect with "Tommy"? 

The word coming from the Pacific Players, who are
staging The Who’s landmark rock opera at the Rio
Theatre in Santa Cruz, is an unequivocal: "Both." 

Director Greg Harbert, who oversees a cast of more
than 25 actors, musicians and dancers, said that
audiences should toss out the reactions and prejudices
they might have of the famously lurid 1975 Ken Russell
film, which has little connection with the new

However, if you’re of a mind to re-connect with the
original 1969 album version of "Tommy," almost
entirely written and conceived by Who mastermind Pete
Townshend, then, by all means, do so. It will only
enhance your enjoyment of the stage production. 

"There are basically three versions," said Harbert,
"the vinyl, the film and the Broadway show. Pete had
his hand very much in the vinyl and the Broadway show,
not so much the film. 

"In general, the film is a history of someone’s pain.
The vinyl is our source. Whenever we have to make an
artistic decision, we reference the vinyl and its

Harbert said that he knew people who didn’t audition
for his production because they didn’t like the film.
So, forget Tina Turner, Elton John and Ann-Margaret
and remember: "It’s a boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a boy." 

"We look at it as, what if we were producing this in
1968 with Pete, when The Who was still kind of poor
and having to tour to make money, and we were poor
performing artists who knew them before they were big.
What would have happened then?" 

With a band put together by the production’s musical
director Ed Levy and dancers working under
choreographer Sharon Took-Zozaya, Harbert’s "Tommy"
promises to be a multimedia blast from the past. The
play’s compact and versatile set moves back and forth
from Tommy’s childhood home, the street outside and
the fantasy sequences inside Tommy’s mind, sequences
crucial to understanding the ambitious rock opera. 

"Tommy," you’ll remember, was the audacious double
album released by The Who in 1969 shortly before the
crest of the band’s biggest wave of popularity. The
"rock opera" format was Townshend’s daring move to
bring rock music more credibility as a narrative form
while still holding close to creating great songs that
stand on their own. Among the most famous on the
"Tommy" album were "I’m Free," "Pinball Wizard,"
"We’re Not Going To Take It" and "Amazing Journey." 

The story, such as it was, had to do with a boy so
traumatized by witnessing a violent crime, he became
blind and deaf — the project’s original title was to
be "Deaf, Dumb and Blind Kid." Townshend’s idea was to
have Tommy experience his world only in vibrations, a
kind of pure musical form. 

Harbert said it took him months to take the raw
material from the "Tommy" album and put it together
again into a story that makes narrative sense. 

"It wasn’t about changing the story," said Harbert,
"but identifying the story as much as possible. In the
film timeline, for instance, Mrs. Walker would have to
be 11 when she was married and have her baby at 12.
Any person who was adding this stuff up would find
things like that. So we clarified it and didn’t
actually change anything." 

The focus of the production was, said Harbert, "to
make the inside of Tommy’s head a location." Thus,
many of the opera’s most vivid moments occur in
Tommy’s imagination, which on stage will translate in
modern dance sequences as Tommy experiences life with
the help of five muses. 

The production will also include an introductory
video, a kind of re-creation of the experience of
buying the "Tommy" album when it was first released. 

Many of the players in Pacific Players had worked
together before in similar productions such as "Hair"
and the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." "Tommy" is an
effort not only to export a kind of Santa Cruz
performance style (the production will move to the 12
Galaxies club in San Francisco for one performance
Aug. 12), but also to establish the company as a kind
of "house company at the Rio," said Harbert. But much
of the company’s future depends upon audience response
to "Tommy." 

As for the music, the Players went after singers first
and foremost to fill out the cast, though Harbert
promises his production won’t adopt the syrupy singing
style of Broadway and lean more toward the rock style
of Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. 

Harbert, a veteran of Santa Cruz theater and arts
journalism, has a personal connection to "Tommy." 

"I was 7 when it first came out and 9 when I first put
the headphones on and listened to it closely. And I
was an only child and my existence was largely taken
up with doing art, so I identified with Tommy a lot,
except for the tragic parts of his story. 

"I really wanted to avoid expensive and elaborate
staging for this production and rely on the music,
because this music is strong enough to activate the
audience’s imaginations. To me, it’s goose-bump
material and I want the audience to feel that way
about it too." 

Contact Wallace Baine at wbaine at

If You Go 
WHAT: ‘Tommy’ by The Who, presented by the Pacific
Players of Santa Cruz. 

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, plus Aug. 13 and 14. 

WHERE: The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 

TICKETS: $15 advance at Streetlight Records, 939
Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; $20 at the door. 

DETAILS: or 439-0913.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Mail Address AutoComplete - You start. We finish. 

More information about the TheWho mailing list