The Who's Tommy

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The Who's Tommy
Broadway promotional poster
MusicPete Townshend
LyricsPete Townshend
BookPete Townshend
Des McAnuff
by The Who
Premiere1 July 1992: La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego
Productions1992 San Diego
1993 Broadway
1996 West End
2015 West End revival
2024 Broadway Revival

The Who's Tommy is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Pete Townshend and a book by Townshend and Des McAnuff. It is based on the 1969 rock opera Tommy by The Who.


The musical opened at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, on 1 July 1992. The Broadway theatre debut was at the St. James Theatre on 29 March 1993 with 27 previews running through 10 April. The show then officially opened on 22 April 1993 and closed on 17 June 1995, after 899 performances. Produced by Sir George Martin and directed by Des McAnuff, with choreography by Wayne Cilento, the original cast included Michael Cerveris (Tommy), Marcia Mitzman (Mrs. Walker), Jonathan Dokuchitz (Captain Walker), Paul Kandel (Uncle Ernie) and Cheryl Freeman (The Gypsy/Acid Queen), plus an ensemble that included Alice Ripley, Christian Hoff, Norm Lewis, Tracy Nicole Chapman, Michael Gardner, Michael McElroy and Sherie Rene Scott.

A Canadian Production opened at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto on 1 March 1995, and played throughout the year.[1] The production featured an entirely Canadian cast, and the lead character of Tommy was played by Tyley Ross.[2] Once the Toronto run ended, the production went on a Canadian tour.

The original production ran 1995/1996 for 13 months in Germany at the Capitol Theatre in Offenbach (next to Frankfurt). The show officially opened on 28 April 1995 and closed on 16 June 1996. Cast included Michael Cerveris (Tommy), Helen Hobson (Mrs. Walker), Joe Lutton (Captain Walker), Roger Bart (Cousin Kevin), Bill Kocis (Onkel Ernie), Linda Dorsey (Acid Queen) plus an ensemble that included Stephen Bienskie, Nicci Brightman, Patrick Clancy, Tim Talman, and others. The show subsequently was produced by various touring companies throughout North America and Europe.

A production ran in the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre from 5 March 1996 until 8 February 1997, featuring Paul Keating (Tommy) and Kim Wilde (Mrs. Walker).[3]

The original Broadway cast performed a one night only reunion benefit concert at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City on 15 December 2008. Produced by The Path Fund/Rockers on Broadway, the concert was a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Broadway Dreams Foundation and the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation.[4]

Des McAnuff revived the musical at the Stratford Festival of Canada from 4 May until 19 October 2013 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.[5]

Aria Entertainment and Greenwich Theatre revived the show in London at the Greenwich Theatre from 29 July until 23 August 2015.

A new production by New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (in co-production with Ramps on the Moon) began touring from March 2017 in Ipswich before heading to Nottingham Playhouse, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Sheffield Theatres. It is directed by Kerry Michael and features original West End cast member Peter Straker as the Acid Queen (after previously playing the Narrator).

A production featuring Andy Mientus as Tommy opened on 27 April 2018 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

A limited production opened at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on 24 April 2019. The production starred Casey Cott as Tommy, Christian Borle as Captain Walker, and Mandy Gonzalez as Mrs. Walker. The production ran through 29 April 2019.

A 30th anniversary revival of the musical premiered at the Goodman Theatre in 2023, in a production directed by Des McAnuff. This production made some revisions to the script including the removal of "Tommy's Holiday Camp" and new rewrite of the verses of "We're Not Gonna Take It". On 26 October 2023, it was announced that this production would transfer to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre, with opening night scheduled for 28 March 2024.[6][7]

This musical inspired Data East's production of a pinball machine called The Who's Tommy Pinball Wizard, which used music, sound effects and artwork based on the original Broadway production; this machine was the third one after the 1975 pinball machine Wizard![8] and the 1976 machine Capt. Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,[9] both made by Bally and based on the 1975 movie. The former features an image of Roger Daltrey as the Pinball Wizard, the latter features an image of Elton John as the Pinball Champion.


Note that there are several plot differences between the album, the film, and the stage production, though the general storyline is largely the same.


An opening montage of London is presented, beginning in 1940 with the initial meeting and then marriage of the Walkers. Amidst World War II, the husband, Captain Walker, parachutes into Germany, where he is captured as a prisoner of war by the Nazis ("Overture"). Back in London at 22 Heathfield Gardens, the captain's brother Ernie delivers a care package to the pregnant Mrs Walker just as two officers arrive at the home to announce the disappearance and presumed death of her husband ("Captain Walker").

Act I[edit]

The following year, two nurses gently hand Mrs Walker her newborn son, Tommy; later, in 1945, American troops liberate Captain Walker's POW camp, proclaiming the end of the war ("It's a Boy" / "We've Won"). Mrs Walker has since attained a new lover, and they celebrate her twenty-first birthday and discuss marriage together with four-year-old Tommy ("Twenty-One"). To their surprise, Captain Walker enters the house and a fight erupts between Captain Walker and the boyfriend. Mrs Walker turns Tommy away, but he watches his father shoot the boyfriend to death through a large mirror. Captain and Mrs Walker embrace but soon realize what Tommy has witnessed, and violently shake him, telling him he did not see or hear anything ("What About the Boy"). The police arrive; Tommy simply gazes at the mirror in silence. A narrator—Tommy's older self—appears to the audience, introducing and framing the story of his exceptional childhood ("Amazing Journey").

Captain Walker is tried for murder but found not guilty by reasons of self-defense. However, Tommy fails to celebrate his father's release, and his family quickly realizes that he has apparently gone deaf, mute, and blind. Tommy's parents have him undergo a battery of medical tests, to no avail ("Sparks"). At ten years of age, Tommy's unresponsive state remains unchanged ("Amazing Journey – Reprise"). The Walkers all go to church and host a Christmas family dinner, though the family is unnerved that Tommy does not know that it is Christmas or understand its significance ("Christmas"). Everyone is stunned when Tommy responds only to his uncle Ernie's playing the French horn. Mr Walker, in a desperate attempt to reach his son, shouts "Tommy, can you hear me?" multiple times. Older Tommy, only visible to young Tommy, who persistently stares at the mirror, sings to him ("See Me, Feel Me").

The Walkers leave Tommy with a slew of vicious babysitters, including alcoholic and sexually abusive Uncle Ernie ("Do You Think It's Alright?" and "Fiddle About"), as well as his cousin Kevin, a sadistic bully ("Cousin Kevin"). Cousin Kevin and his friends take Tommy to a youth club where, to everyone's astonishment, Tommy plays pinball brilliantly ("Sensation"). Meanwhile, another doctor, a psychiatrist, tests Tommy yet again with no success ("Sparks – Reprise"). The desperate Captain Walker is approached by The Hawker and Harmonica Player ("Eyesight to the Blind") who promise a miraculous cure for Tommy. They take young Tommy to the Isle of Dogs to find a prostitute called The Gypsy, who tries to convince Captain Walker to let her spend time alone with Tommy, introducing him to drugs ("The Acid Queen"). Horrified by her methods, Captain Walker snatches Tommy away. By 1958, Tommy has apparently become a pinball-playing expert as Cousin Kevin and a group of adolescents await 17-year-old Tommy's appearance at the amusement arcade, where his rise to local popularity has begun ("Pinball Wizard").

Act II[edit]

By 1960, Tommy has become the local pinball champion and hero of the neighborhood lads ("Underture"). Captain Walker persists unsuccessfully in seeking doctors and a cure for Tommy ("There's a Doctor" and "Go to the Mirror!"). One doctor discovers that Tommy's senses do function but not at a self-aware or openly expressive level. On the street, a group of local louts surround Tommy ("Tommy, Can You Hear Me?") and carry him home. The Walkers, at their wits' end, passionately confront each other in an effort to reconcile and face the reality that Tommy might never be cured ("I Believe My Own Eyes"). Captain Walker leaves Mrs. Walker with Tommy. Tommy stares into the mirror blankly as his mother tries desperately to reach him one last time, before smashing the mirror in a rage ("Smash the Mirror"). With the mirror in pieces, Tommy suddenly becomes fully lucid and interactive for the first time since the age of four, and he leaves home ("I'm Free"). Through 1961 to 1963, news of Tommy's miraculous regaining of full consciousness receives huge media attention ("Miracle Cure"), Tommy is idolized by the public and the press ("Sensation – Reprise"), and he begins appearing in packed stadiums, playing pinball with a helmet that temporarily blinds and deafens him ("Pinball Wizard – Reprise"). Uncle Ernie tries to capitalise on Tommy's newfound stardom, by selling cheap souvenirs for a grand opening party of Tommy's new holiday camp, resulting from Tommy's cult-like following ("Tommy's Holiday Camp"). That night, an adolescent fan named Sally Simpson falls from the stage in her eagerness to touch Tommy and is pummeled by guards ("Sally Simpson"). Tommy, in horror, stops the show and tends to Sally. He says he has had enough and decides to go home.

Realizing how caught up in celebrity he has become, Tommy wishes to do something in return for his fans and invites them all back to his house ("Welcome"). Once there, the population of fans keeps growing, though Tommy generously, but naïvely, wishes to welcome everyone equally. Sally then asks Tommy how she can be more like him and less like herself ("Sally Simpson's Question"). He is confused, and insists that there is no reason for anyone to be like him, when everyone else already possesses the amazing gifts that he was deprived of most of his life. He suddenly realises that he had thought his fame came from his miraculous recovery, when it in fact arose due to his fans' desire for a spiritual leader, hoping he could communicate wisdom from his experience of not being able to hear, see, or talk for so long. Now, disenchanted with their hero for failing to provide the answers they wanted to be told to them, the crowd turns on him in anger and eventually leaves ("We're Not Gonna Take It"), leaving Tommy with just his family surrounding him. Tommy hears the voice of his ten-year-old self from the mirror ("See Me, Feel Me") and for a moment, to the horror of his family, seems to be reverting to his old state. Instead, he turns to his family, whom he has ignored during his stardom, and embraces them in acceptance, before he climactically reunites with his younger selves onstage ("Listening to You/Finale").

Plot differences between the three versions[edit]

The original 1969 album was much more ambiguous in its specific plot points than the stage musical and film versions. Originally, the song "Twenty-One" was called "1921" as the album version took place in a post-World War I setting. In the film, the story was changed to be post-World War II and the song was changed to "1951". In both the album and stage versions, the father comes home and kills the lover in the confrontation. Ken Russell's film made a reversal and killed Mr. Walker's character, having the lover then assume the role of a step-father to Tommy.

Pete Townshend made a number of lyrical changes to songs for the film version, many of which were utilized in the stage musical (these include revisions made to "It's a Boy", "Amazing Journey", and "Tommy's Holiday Camp", among others). The new pieces created for the film, however ("Bernie's Holiday Camp", "Champagne", "Mother and Son"), were not retained for the stage production. Instead, Townshend wrote a new piece called "I Believe My Own Eyes" in which the Walkers resign themselves to accepting Tommy's fate after years of trying.

Tommy's experience with the Acid Queen (Scene 11) is also handled differently between the album, movie, and stage productions. In both the album and movie, Tommy appears to have taken a drug from the Acid Queen which produced a visceral response in the otherwise mostly catatonic child. In the musical, his father brings him to see the Acid Queen, then changes his mind and leaves before Tommy partakes of her "charms."

The most fundamental difference in the story is the finale, which was rewritten in 1993. Originally, Tommy instructs his followers to become deaf, mute, and blind themselves to find a heightened state of enlightenment. The crowd rejects this and turns on him. In the stage version, Tommy tells them the opposite: to not try to emulate him, but to rather live out their own normal lives. Upon hearing this message, the crowd still rejects him out of a desire to hear a bolder message from him.


  • Tommy, age 16–25, A young pinball genius. Tenor.
  • Captain Walker age: 25–35, Tommy's guilty father. Tenor.
  • Mrs. Walker, age: 18–30, Tommy's weary mum. Pop Mezzo-soprano.
Other Tommys
  • Tommy, age 3–7: child Tommy
  • Tommy, age 8–12: preadolescent Tommy
Supporting roles
  • Cousin Kevin, age: 15–20, Tommy's evil babysitting cousin. A young, loutish nuisance. Baritone.
  • Uncle Ernie, age: 30–45, Tommy's perverted uncle. A lecherous bachelor. Tenor.
  • The Lover, age: 25–30, Mrs. Walker's lover, killed by Captain Walker
  • The Hawker, age: 20–50, An unsavory street man. Baritone
  • The Gypsy, age: 20–35, A drug dealer and prostitute. Rock Mezzo-soprano
  • The Specialist, age: 30–50, A very modern doctor who has new theories on how to cure Tommy. Baritone.
  • Sally Simpson, age: 13–20, A typical teenybopper. Soprano.

Principal Casts[edit]

Character La Jolla Playhouse
US Tour
West End
Stratford Festival
Kennedy Center Concert
Goodman Theatre
Tommy Michael Cerveris Steve Isaacs Tyley Ross Michael Cerveris Paul Keating Robert Markus Casey Cott Ali Louis Bourzgui
Mrs. Walker Marcia Mitzman Gaven Jessica Molaskey Jennifer Lyon Helen Hobson Kim Wilde Kira Guloien Mandy Gonzalez Alison Luff
Captain Walker Jonathan Dokuchitz Jason Workman David Rogers Joe Lutton Alistair Robins Jeremy Kushnier Christian Borle Adam Jacobs
Uncle Ernie Paul Kandel William Youmans Frank Moore Bill Kocis Ian Bartholomew Steve Ross Manu Narayan John Ambrosino
Cousin Kevin Anthony Barrile Roger Bart Ted Dykstra Roger Bart Hal Fowler Paul Alexander Nolan Wesley Taylor Bobby Conte
The Gypsy Cheryl Freeman Kennya Ramsey Jinky Llamanzares Linda Dorsey Nicola Hughes Jewelle Blackman Kimberly Nichole Christina Sajous
Hawker Rick Fitts Michael McElroy Destan Owens Thom Allison Destan Owens Shaun Escoffery Lee Siegel Mykal Kilgore Sheldon Henry
Specialist Norm Lewis Rudy Webb Gregg Brown Matthew G. Brown Charl Brown
Lover Lee Morgan Alec Timerman Daniel Nathan Kramer Tim Talman John Partridge Sean Alexander Hauk Rory Donovan Nathan Lucrezio
Harmonica Player Daniel Quadrino
Pinball Lads Donnie Kehr
Christian Hoff
Anthony Galde
Clarke Thorell
Tim Howar
Jeremy Kushnier
Anthony Galde
Stephen Bienskie
Adrian Smith
James Gillan
Gabriel Antonacci
Matthew Armet
Nick Martinez
Kaleb Wells
Mark Mitrano
Jeremiah Alsop
Sally Simpson Hilary Morse Sherie Rene Scott Hilary Morse Jennifer Copping Jackie Crawford Gail Easdale Jennifer Rider-Shaw Taylor Iman Jones Haley Gustafson

Song list[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1993 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Michael Cerveris Nominated
Paul Kandel Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Marcia Mitzman Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Des McAnuff Won
Best Choreography Wayne Cilento Won
Best Original Score Pete Townshend Won
Best Scenic Design John Arnone Won
Best Costume Design David C. Woolard Nominated
Best Lighting Design Chris Parry Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Steven Margoshes Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Des McAnuff Won
Outstanding Choreography Wayne Cilento Nominated
Outstanding Set Design John Arnone and Wendall K. Harrington Won
Outstanding Costume Design David C. Woolard Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Chris Parry Won
Outstanding Sound Design Steve Canyon Kennedy Won
Grammy Award Best Musical Show Album Sir George Martin Won
Theatre World Award Michael Cerveris Won

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1997 Laurence Olivier Award Best Musical Revival Won
Best Actor in a Musical Paul Keating Nominated
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical James Gillan Nominated
Best Director Des McAnuff Won
Best Theatre Choreographer Wayne Cilento Nominated
Best Set Design John Arnone Nominated
Best Costume Design David C. Woolard Nominated
Best Lighting Design Chris Parry Won


  1. ^ Heritage FDN Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Brian D. Johnson. "Townshend and Tommy in Toronto". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  3. ^ Shaftesbury Theatre listing
  4. ^ Hetrick, Adam (15 December 2008). "15th Anniversary Concert of The Who's Tommy Rocks Broadway Dec. 15". Playbill. Retrieved 14 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Stratford Festival". Archived from the original on 28 June 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  6. ^ Paulson, Michael (26 October 2023). "'Tommy,' the Who's Rock Opera, Will Return to Broadway". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 October 2023.
  7. ^ Higgins, Molly (26 October 2023). "Reimagined The Who's Tommy Sets 2024 Broadway Bow". Playbill. Retrieved 26 October 2023.
  8. ^ "Wizard!". Internet Pinball Database. Retrieved 29 March 2022.
  9. ^ "Capt. Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy". Internet Pinball Database. Retrieved 29 March 2022.

External links[edit]