The Scotsman on the meaning of Tommy

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Tue Mar 29 19:42:06 CST 2005

>From The Scotsman at:

Rock on Tommy, you're a star 



WHEN IT COMES to rock operas, The Who’s Tommy is the
undisputed grandaddy of them all. Conceived back in
the late 1960s, and recorded in 1969, the legendary
story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid who plays
world-beating pinball precedes almost everything of
which it now reminds us. It’s earlier than glam rock,
a full half-decade ahead of punk and so much more
radical in style and content than Jesus Christ
Superstar - which came a year later, and deals with
similar themes of messianic fame and miraculous
healing - that it makes Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic
album-turned-show seem like a routine piece of

For a piece of supposedly ephemeral pop culture
produced more than a generation ago, it survives the
ravages of time remarkably well, and now it’s on tour
to Glasgow and Edinburgh, in an honest, hard-working
and often spectacular production - starring Jonathan
Wilkes as Tommy - that stands as a worthwhile tribute
to one of the wildest and most wonderful rock bands of
all time. 

For what’s most striking about The Who’s Tommy, 36
years on, is the sheer courage and shocking creative
force with which Pete Townshend, who wrote both the
music and the lyrics, seized his chance to use the
hard edge of rock music to blow apart the polite myths
of postwar British society. Born at the height of the
Second World War, soon after his fighter-pilot father
is presumed killed in action, the hero Tommy is struck
deaf, dumb and blind at the age of four, when he
witnesses the murder of his mother’s new lover by his
father, returned unexpectedly from years as a prisoner
of war. As he grows up in suburban London, silent and
vulnerable, Tommy is sexually abused by his drunken
uncle Ernie, and sadistically tortured by his violent
cousin Kevin; even the discovery of his weird gift for
pinball, and his sexual initiation at the hands of an
Isle of Dogs sex-goddess-cum-prostitute known as the
Acid Queen, fail to break his self-imposed exile from
the world. Tommy, in other words, is a full-blown
dystopian vision of a nation decent and respectable on
the surface, but full of lies, secrets, self-serving
cruelty and a kind of creeping autistic silence

The single finest thing about Guy Retallack’s touring
production for the Bill Kenwright organisation is that
is stays true to this sense of rage, and to its fierce
continuing significance for the Britain we live in
today. The casting of Wilkes as the grown-up Tommy is
perhaps slightly questionable, not because Wilkes
doesn’t give his all in presenting and leading the
show, but because his transatlantic tone and hunky
Baywatch-style good looks seem a shade out of key; the
image of Roger Daltrey, a wild-haired 1960s update of
a furious Dickensian urchin, inevitably haunts this
role, and perhaps always will. 

Everything else about the show, though - from the
six-piece on-stage rock band, grizzled with years but
still bashing hell out of those guitars, to Brian
Joseph McCann’s haunting performance as the abused
ten-year-old Tommy - rings true. And if there’s a
frightening incidence of grey heads in the crowd that
finally stands in the aisles to roar out the closing
chorus of Pinball Wizard - well, it seems most of
Townshend’s generation failed to die before they got

But then again, for their age, they’re perhaps less
old than any generation before them, thanks mainly to
the thrilling, radical music that swept through their
youth, and is still winning new fans today. 

• The Who’s Tommy is at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow,
until 2 April and at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh,
16-21 May.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

Do you Yahoo!? 
Yahoo! Small Business - Try our new resources site! 

More information about the TheWho mailing list