Watch Pete Townshend Perform Medley from ‘The Who’s Tommy’

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The Who are about to revive their 1969 rock opera Tommy on Broadway and frontman Pete Townshend joined the stage cast on The Tonight Show to perform several songs from the musical. The musician took the stage to showcase “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Listening To You” alongside Tommy star Ali Louis Bourzgui. They were joined by several other cast members and Jimmy Fallon‘s house band.

Townshend also sat down with Fallon to discuss the Broadway revival, which opens March 28 at the Nederlander Theatre. Tommy was initially released as an album and later made into a film in 1975. The original Broadway run launched in 1993 and earned several Tony Awards. Townshend recalled making the decision to write Tommy in the ’60s.

“We were doing really well with rock songs, so I thought, ‘We need to do something really drastic,’” he said. “And that’s when I came up with the idea of rock opera and that’s when I wrote Tommy. I thought, ‘I need to write something which is bigger than just a single.”

Townshend revealed that the rock opera almost had a different plot. “In the original story, Tommy was a rock star,” he told Fallon. “He was somebody that his fans had turned into a kind of guru. And he has this rise and fall. He’s deaf, dumb, and blind, in the same way he is in the current story. He witnesses his father’s murdering his mother’s lover when he comes back from the war, and he grows up and starts to play music. That was the original story.”

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The musician ended up shifting the idea because he wanted a good review in The Observer newspaper. The band invited the paper’s critic, Nick Cohen, who happened to be writing a book on a pinball champion, into the studio to hear the album. “The interesting thing is I knew this kid because I was a pinball freak,” Townshend remembered. “I used to play all the time and I was really good.” He ended up changing the story after Cohen called the album “pretentious.”

Townshend has released very little new material since his last solo LP, Psychoderelict, which dropped in 1993. Last year, he shared “Can’t Outrun the Truth,” his first solo single in 29 years. The track was composed and produced by Rachel Fuller (Townshend’s wife and sometimes collaborator) under the name Charlie Pepper, and reflects on the lack of human interaction caused by the pandemic. He also reunited with Ann-Margret for a cover of the Everly Brothers classic “Bye Bye Love,” which appeared on her LP, Born To Be Wild.

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