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Split Stage celebrates 50 years of The Who’s ‘Tommy’

Candy Williams
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Michael Ochs Archive | Getty Images
The rock opera “Tommy” went on to inspire a 1975 movie starring The Who. The band is seen in this 1975 photo: (from left) Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Pete Townshend.
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Courtesy of The Lamp Theatre
Split Stage Productions will perform a concert version of The Who’s 1969 rock opera, “Tommy,” at 8 p.m. Oct. 11-12 at The Lamp Theatre, Irwin, to mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic album.

Split Stage Productions co-founders Rob Jessup and Nate Newell are among the “Tommy” faithful who couldn’t let the 50th anniversary of British rock band The Who’s famous rock opera album go by without recognizing the band and its music.

Worldwide celebrations have honored the half-century milestone of “Tommy,” which was released on May 23, 1969, and was widely well received, with accolades including those of Rolling Stone that called the album “probably the most important milestone in pop since Beatlemania.”

The rock opera went on to inspire a 1975 movie starring The Who, comprised of Roger Daltrey, lead vocalist; Pete Townshend, lead vocals, guitar and keyboards; John Entwistle, bass and lead vocals, and Keith Moon, drums.

Also starring in the movie about Tommy Walker, a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who eventually becomes a pinball champion who deals with his demons from a troubled childhood, were Ann-Margret, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner and Elton John.

“Tommy” later was turned into a Broadway musical that earned five Tony Awards in 1993.

Tribute concert

Split Stage is planning a celebration of its own, with a tribute concert version of “Tommy” music coordinated by Jessup of Murrysville, Newell of Lower Burrell and Laura Wurzell of Delmont.

Jessup said the concert to be performed at 8 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11 at The Lamp Theatre in Irwin will be performed by an ensemble of 10 to 12 local singers and members of the company’s band of musicians.

“We’ll be featuring our Split Stage alums and some new faces and spotlighting some of our band members that have been with us for years,” he said.

The audition notice for the concert said the singers “will all take the lead, individually, on different songs throughout the concert. Since there have been many versions of numerous songs from this album, singers will have the input into which direction they may like to take their songs.”

Song selections

The concert will feature songs from the “Tommy” album that include the most popular tunes – mostly composed by Townshend – that were released as singles, including “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” “The Acid Queen” and “We’re Not Going to Take It.”

“We’re essentially performing the album cover to cover,” Jessup said, noting that the Split Stage concert is an original presentation that is not the stage version of the rock opera based on songs from the “Tommy” album.

“This is not a theatrical production,” he said. “There is no set; the band will be center stage and we will be using some imagery that is similar to what The Who would use.”

The best-known song from the rock opera, “Pinball Wizard,” reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album reached number 4 on the Billboard 200 and achieved double-platinum status with its sales of 2 million copies in the U.S.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Categories: AandE | Music
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