By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: The air was electric and buzzing with activity at the First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto as its citizens got ready to set the Guinness World record for the largest number of people playing pinball machines at one time!
And they did! More than 5,000 fans ‘flipped for Tommy!’
The event was organized as part of the launch for the revival of rock’s greatest opera, ‘Tommy’. Originally conceived about 20 years ago by Pete Townshend of the English rock band The Who and Des McAnuff of La Jolla Playhouse in Los Angeles, the musical won the Tony Award way back in 1993 when it had its Broadway debut in New York City. Des McAnuff has updated and modernized the theatrical production and now brings it to Stratford, Ontario where he also served as artistic director of the famous Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This musical is particularly interesting in that way back in the 60s when many rock greats went to India to seek spirituality (The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi come first to mind) and to learn the sitar, living rock legend and guitarist extraordinaire (famous for his aggressive style, wrecking guitars on stage and wind milling on the guitar), Pete Townsend went on a spiritual quest to India to seek the meaning of life from Meher Baba, the silent guru, who always communicated by writing and hand gestures, even though he could speak but chose not to.
Rock’s first great opera ‘Tommy’ was the result of Pete Townshend’s amazing journey and time spent with Meher Baba (who had also interacted with Hollywood greats like Gary Cooper, Boris Karloff and many others).
Tommy is the story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid (an extrapolation of the fact that Meher Baba never spoke) who doesn’t know what Christmas is all about and who Jesus was, but he is a pinball wizard! He can play and beat the best of the best despite being deaf, dumb and blind (hence the Pinballapalooza in Toronto to set the Guinness world record). The boy goes on to become a Messiah!
The rock album came out in 1969, the year Meher Baba passed away and was dedicated to his memory and all Pete learnt from him and is considered to be a masterpiece in the annals of rock history (well what else can come out from time spent with a real guru?)! Well known songs from this album like ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See me, Feel me’ plus a few others were played by the musical’s rock band just before the kick-off to set the world record at First Canadian Place! The crowd went wild and sang along!
As mentioned before, the theatrical production of this seminal album came into being in the 90s and was so successful that many countries did their version of it, including India, where it opened to a packed house in Mumbai!
We in Onatrio are privileged to have the original master of this fantastic musical, Des McAnuff, revive this chef d’oeuvre for the 21st century and bring it to us right here in Stratford. For more information visit www.stratfordfestival.ca
(Lachman Balani is a Mississauga-based financial consultant)