When Opera Went Electric; The Who's Tommy ran a live wire through theater

Turning 50 next year, Tommy has taken on many incarnations. In addition to its original 24-song, double-album format released in May 1969, it was staged in 1972 by the London Symphony Orchestra, starring additional rock luminaries like Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, and Ringo Starr. In 1975, it became a star-studded, extravagant Ken Russell–directed film with Daltrey fully at the center and also starring Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Ann-Margaret, and a warbling Jack Nicholson. In 1992, Townshend and director Des McAnuff adapted Tommy into a darker, explosive stage musical that went to Broadway and won five Tony Awards. [Actor Michael Cerveris made his Broadway debut in the title role; 10 years later, just before winning his first Tony for Assassins, he starred in Ravinia’s production of Sondheim’s Passion and returned for Sunday in the Park with George and Anyone Can Whistle the following to years.] And in 2017 The Who gave a rare full performance for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

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