The Who’s Classic ‘Tommy’ Hits Broadway – Revives & Thrives

From now through the rest of the year (and hopefully beyond), TOMMY: THE MUSICAL is at the Nederlander Theatre for just about anyone.

It’s true – anyone can (and will) enjoy this show, just take our word for it. The acclaimed rock opera is more ‘for everyone’ than three quarters of the shows open in the Theater District at the time of this writing. How so, you ask? Generations of rock and roll fans will flock to the theatre for the legendary soundtrack itself, while theater lovers will appreciate the simple, but effective nature of the set design and imaginative prop usage. History buffs will surely enjoy being immersed in this tale as it is a period piece (WWII), but those intrigued by science fiction will get lost in the futuristic costuming and edgy production. This show is as creative as ever, which will not be lost on any attendees.

At our showing of TOMMY during previews a few weeks ago, we were sat in between a set of Broadway-loving parents (a gay couple and their recently adopted four-year-old son who donned noise-cancelling headphones) and a member of the crew from the original iteration of the musical circa the mid-nineties (with his wife, both on the edge of their seat before the curtain lifted, ready to see how this iconic show was revived). The most minimalist summary of the performance was that the anticipation for the revival of TOMMY was high and the thrilled spirit for the sights and sounds of it to be returning in the year 2024 was palpable; it filled every corner of Nederlander long before the talented cast took the stage. No matter how diverse the audience was (and it was quite diverse in many ways), the show impressed everyone in the room. That earlier excitement and anticipation was not for nothing, and every attendee’s expectations were either met or exceeded depending on what their main reason for going to the show was. We were all following the narrative, Tommy Walker as a child and Tommy Walker as a man, navigating life in a way that is both solemn and lonely in his trauma-induced deafness, blindness, and dumbness, however era-defining, as well, with its prolific determination and somehow timeless vindication of being successful, finding yourself, and creating a community… even if it comes with an otherworldly, wizard-ly, savior complex.

Our Tommy, on March 23, had the most memorable performance. Sure, he is the titular character and should be notable, but the actor himself and the way he emotes visibly and audibly was what floored much of the audience and us here at The Aquarian. Ali Louis Bourzgui shines as the lead of The Who’s Tommy. He is marvelous, grounded, and versatile with a multi-range voice that wonderfully encapsulates what singer-songwriter-frontman-icon Roger Daltrey did when recording the rock opera those 55 years ago.

Like Tommy Walker, it is the vibrations of the pinball machine that awaken something in his desolate mind, and it is the vibrations of the electrifying, progressive music of The Who – Pete Townsend in particular – that carry this story from start to finish, or youth to adulthood. There is substance here – substance to the representation of the differently-abled community, substance to the effects of violence and war, and (most importantly) substance to the score and musicianship that can still fill the souls of a sold-out crowd over five decades after its release.

With music that swells in an unwavering manner and a story that remains Impassioned and unchanged, it’s a relatively simple and expected revival. (The musical, based on The Who’s seminal 1969 concept record, opened on stage originally in 1993 and ran until 1995, but prior to that took over the Seattle Opera House in the early seventies and became a movie in the mid-seventies.) Rock and roll orchestration in this theatrical way harkens back to the early 2000s and Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway. Before and after TOMMY’s original run in the nineties, and before and after American Idiot, few productions have struck the flawless balance of captivating storytelling and guitar-driven soundtrack. TOMMY:THE MUSICAL does that, and it reminds us that it is, in fact, still possible to rip into the stunning, intricate world of theatre without fear. Nothing is overdone – not a guitar riff, not a vocal run, not a dance sequence, not a gunshot, not a single moment.

History repeats itself, for better or for worse, and that includes the history of rock and roll, the history of live theatre, and the history of Tommy Walker. It is a sensation that we were right to be thrilled about coming back around.