With the dawn comes the rain as clean, refreshing air breezes gently through the half open window. “Crouching Shorty” fits perfectly there while I’m concentrating on TOMMY for tomorrow’s meeting with set designer, Linda Buchanan. A brilliant woman, Linda designed ANNIE and MISS SAIGON. The original rock opera, TOMMY is the 1969 critical and commercial success of the British rock band, The Who. The group’s primary song writer, Pete Townshend, composed it as a concept album and I’m observing how much of himself is put into this piece. As a child, Townsend endured bullying at school. His parents drank and fought and were musicians themselves; his father, a saxophonist and his mother, a singer. His mom had affairs while his dad was on tour. Intriguing how the dark, disturbing past haunts an artist’s work. In our story, four year old “Tommy,” traumatized into a type of catatonia losing his hearing, sight and speech, is abused and given up on. The recovery and awakening of “Tommy” as a young man reflects Townshend’s interest in the teachings of the Indian spiritual master, Meher Baba. It is so interesting to me how this rock star was drawn to spiritual teachings just as his band’s popularity begins to peak which results in him writing one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value.” Listening, there is an undeniable majesty to it. It’s fascinating to read Leonard Bernstein praising how its “sheer power, invention and brilliance of performance outstrips anything which has ever come out of a recording studio.” The show is a hallucinogenic spectacle of sights and sounds. (Mike Tutaj will design projections and Tom Vendafreddo music directs/conducts). Choreographer, Katie Spelman sees current and relevant themes of celebrity, religion, media hype, overcoming childhood trauma. I see us exploring how post WWII is the backdrop for the father’s murder of the mother’s lover, how child abuse and violence shut down the child’s senses save for these savant pinball skills that are miraculously triggered. I wonder if there is a way this story can grab audiences in a new, perhaps more poignant, way. There is something working class about it all that speaks to its roots in rock music; the domestic violence, the courtroom, the church, kids in a pinball arcade, the cost of fame, rebellion and spirituality…could this hit home for audiences in an unexpected way? The darker we capture young Tommy’s suffering the more ecstatic his liberation/emancipation in his cure and celebrity/fame and following. Could it be more compelling, more gripping, if the production somehow speaks to Pete Townshend’s spiritual awakening? The challenge would be for Linda to physicalize what is a spiritual influence, the composer’s journey to writing the piece. It’d be a heck of a lot easier to do it as a concert! But the scarier, the abstract, the never seen before concept is from where I think we might start. Yep, I think I just talked myself into it again. Let’s see how this feels tomorrow.
Love & thanks,