“The Who’s Tommy,” the Broadway production: presented by Pace Theatrical Group and Dodger Prods. with Kardana Prods. Inc.; music & lyrics, Pete Townshend; book, Townsend, Des McAnuff; additional music & lyrics, John Entwistle, Keith Moon; director, Des McAnuff; choreographer, Wayne Cilento.
The bristling power chords of Pete Townshend’s classic “Pinball Wizard” open the docu “The Amazing Journey” and set a pace that doesn’t stall in this vastly interesting hour.
The docu balances its time between documenting the various incarnations of the Who’s 1969 “Tommy” and the rock opera’s path to the legit stage; spec’s only faults are trying to cover too much territory and attempting to equate events in the band’s career with the those in the opera. (such as comparing “Tommy’s” Sally Simpson character with the disastrous late-’70s Cincinnati Who concert when 11 people were crushed to death and with the death of drummer Keith Moon. ]
Producers Eve Chilton and Maude Chilton, director Barry Alexander Brown and editor Allyson C. Johnson do an excellent job condensing the Who’s four-year career pre-“Tommy.” Creatively burned out and in debt by 1968, the band had reached a crossroad where chief songwriterTownshend was unable to come up with another three-minute pop single. In desperation, he took a huge artistic leap in the composing and subsequent release of the rock opera. Townshend shares some of the insights and stories behind its inception, including a very funny tale behind the writing of “Wizard.”
The producers and editor Johnson use some clever techniques cutting from the young lead singer Roger Daltrey to present day, and splicing from the previously animated Townshend to his now-droll self, discussing the same subject. “Journey” traces the work’s development from its first stage performance by the Royal Canadian Ballet toKen Russell’s film to rehearsals for the Des McAnuff-directed musical. Each step is punctuated with interviews from the primary participants.
Russell — looking like an eccentric, red-faced Santa Claus — says “Tommy” is “about enlightenment, and we need a big shock to open our eyes.” However, Daltrey, in a non-bitter tone, opines, “It never answered anything.” He also sums up the difference between the stage and rock version, saying, “Give me a bum note and a bead of sweat any day.”