By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: Tommy is inspired by Meher Baba, the silent guru of India, who, though he could speak, chose not to and only communicated with hand gestures and through writing.
Pete Townshend, guitar maestro and composer of the rock band The Who, who had spent time with this guru to unwind and tune into spirituality, drew up a story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who turns into a saviour and put it to rock music. The rock album came out in 1969, the same year Meher Baba expired and was dedicated to his memory.
The album was a super hit worldwide and included the fast –paced song, ‘Pinball Wizard’, that went on to become a global chart-topper! The Broadway staging of the musical came out in 1993 and won the Tony award. Such was its universal appeal then that many countries in the world including India staged their own productions.
At Stratford in Ontario, even before the red curtains lifted to reveal the grandiose scene, we could hear the roar of the airplane engines and air raid sirens screaming and bombs dropping. The World War 2 opening scene was beautifully rendered through audiovisual effects and stage props. Jimi Hendrix’ scorching rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ (US national anthem) at Woodstock immediately sprung to mind! The costumes were authentic to the last detail and represented the period they belonged to. The director of the original production, Des McAnuff, who was also the artistic director at Stratford festival, and Pete Townshend did not hesitate in using the latest technology to bring this epic musical straight into modern times! It was absolutely an enthralling performance by the cast and crew to bring Tommy to life twenty years after the first Broadway appearance.
Having seen the original, I must say that the technology and audio visual effects available today make it so much more powerful on stage. The costumes, props and scenes were equally stunning. Though the stage appeared to be small, it took on a larger than life appearance due to the mind blowing sonic and visual effects. The stage was always full of surprises with smoke, fire, gunshots, and other cutting edge effects. Tommy more than fulfilled its expectations. It soared to bring new heights to the Stratford festival and is a must see for all ages of fans as well as non- fans of The Who. The crescendo at intermission is totally spellbinding! Tommy (played by Robert Markus) was superbly brought to life in this stupendous performance!
Tommy is the story of a kid who is rendered deaf, dumb and blind by the traumatic experience of seeing his father killing his mother’s lover. Taking advantage of his dire situation, he is abused by both his wicked uncle, Ernie, and his cousin Kevin. However a sixth sense turns him into a pinball wizard, the trendy game of the times, and he beats all the reigning kings to be crowned the emperor! Later in life the smashing of a mirror cures him and he turns into a messiah and hordes of people come to get enlightened at his feet! Will he be able to live up to the task? Well come out and find out. You won’t be disappointed.
A few weeks before the opening of this brilliant play, Stratford festival in concert with First Canadian Place set a pinball playing record right here in Toronto. Adjudicators from the Guinness world of records were on hand to honor Ontario with this great award!
Tommy runs at the Avon theatre in Stratford, Ontario, until October. For more info please visit www.stratfordfestival.ca
And don’t forget, this Stratford musical production of Tommy brings the 1960s to the 21st century; it is pure 666% rock energy! And it is straight in your face!
(Lachman Balani is a financial consultant based in Mississauga)