Call it enhanced theatre.

When The Renaissance Center presented TOMMY in July 2000, the full power of the technology available at the center was integrated into the already thrilling stage musical version of The Who’s classic 1969 rock opera.

“Being a world-class multimedia center gives us the opportunity to incorporate this advanced technology into our stage production in the form of video and other special effects,” said Leo Sochocki, director of Drama and Theatre for The Renaissance Center who is directing TOMMY. “We will be able to take a typical stage production and enhance it like no other show in the area.”

Pinball Wizard

“Not only will we have a live rock band on stage incorporated into the set, but the multimedia effects will include five huge projection screens to bring in special effects that are not otherwise possible in a live stage production,” Sochocki said. “The Renaissance Centerís Animation Department is working with us to produce new state-of-the-art 3D animation effects that, to my knowledge, will be the first time any musical has incorporated animation into a live presentation.”

TOMMY began as a rock opera written by Pete Townshend, guitarist, synthesist and composer for British rock supergroup The Who. It has been a movie, a ballet and then was adapted for Broadway.

Pete Townshend

The stage musical version of TOMMY opened in 1993 in New York and ran for 928 performances. It has been a successful touring show all over North America and Europe.

TOMMY is set in Britain between the end of World War II and the late 1960s and chronicles the adventures of young Tommy Walker. Following a traumatic experience in childhood, which causes him to withdraw from the world into a form of autism, Tommy emerges an unwilling hero -- the Pinball Wizard -- who must live up to the expectations of his demanding followers.

Tommy and his cousin Karen, the bully

“While our stage version downplays some of the graphic nature of the events in Tommy’s life, the play still has some mature themes,” Sochocki said. “If I had to rate the play using movie ratings, I’d give it a PG-13 because some content might be inappropriate for young children.”

The score, which originally began life in 1969 as a chart-topping album released by The Who, includes many classics such as “Amazing Journey,” “I'm Free,” “Sensation,” “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard.”

After its May 1969 release as an album, The Who performed segments of the show during Woodstock that August. An orchestral version of the show, including Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Stevie Winwood and Richie Havens, was released in 1972, the same year a Canadian ballet company debuted its version of TOMMY.

The 1975 movie version of TOMMY, directed by Ken Russell, starred fellow Who member Roger Daltrey in the title role as well as Ann-Margaret, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson and Eric Clapton.

Tommy tortured by cruel cousin

But Sochocki is quick to point out that the stage production is very different from the film.

Unhappy with the movie, Townshend set about making changes to bring TOMMY to the stage more than 15 years later. The current stage production of TOMMY is very different from the film, which was harshly criticized when it was released.

“One significant change made by Pete Townshend and director Des McAnuff is the ending,” Sochocki said. “Those familiar with the movie will also notice that changes have also been made to song lyrics and plot elements.”

After a brief tune-up run in California in 1992, Townshend brought TOMMY to Broadway in the St. James Theater in 1993. The show smashed box office records and picked up five Tony awards, including Best Original Score and Best Director for McAnuff. The show also won six Drama Desk awards and three Outer Critics Circle awards, including Best Musical. The original Broadway cast album received a Grammy in 1994.

Pete Townshend's famous Windmill

In 1996, TOMMY took the next media step when it became an interactive CD-ROM complete with interviews and video and audio clips from each version.

The Renaissance Center’s version of TOMMY will be a combination of professional and community theater, the first such production at the center.

“Even if you happen to have seen TOMMY on Broadway or by one of the touring companies, The Renaissance Centerís version will still be unique due to the use of multimedia technology,” Sochocki said. “We have the opportunity to present a version of TOMMY that will be different from any other.”

For more information on TOMMY, call The Renaissance Center at (615)740-5600.

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