Monday, March 21, 2011

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: Tommy

My relationship with Tommy is a long and lovely one. It began when I was still in early middle school, and I was part of a local children's theatre. The teen group, including my sister, got to do the riskier shows, so while I remained in Treasure Island and The Wizard of Oz, my sis got to do Newsies (they cuss!) and Tommy (they cuss and sex and drug and stuff!). Mom and Dad frequently bragged on my sister, as well they should have: she was a natural on the stage, always alive, never pulling focus, but when it was her time, she absolutely commanded the stage. Every role she played was phenomenal, whether it be Glinda in The Wiz, Kim McAfee in Bye-Bye Birdie, or Nora Walker in Tommy. Others were scandalized when they saw my fourteen-year-old sister involved in a production that included acid queens and the lyrics, "lovers break caresses for me/love enhanced as I go by". Me? I was besotted.

Yet it wasn't until college that I finally experienced Tommy. My school did a midnight screening of the Ken Russell film, and while others in the audience clearly had some "assistance" in their perception of the film, I was left to my own devices. Hot damn, I think I got the most out of it. Like many campy, weirdo musicals, it left others appreciating it either as a mindfuck or a what the fuck, leaving my friends and I to genuinely fall in love with a piece of cinema unlike any other we had witnessed. That Acid Queen section, with the iron maiden made of syringes? Or a mass devoted to a Marilyn Monroe statue? Or the heavy-handed Christ symbolism? Bread and butter, folks, bread and butter.

So I got the albums, both the motion picture one and the original concept by The Who. I love the different takes in each one. I prefer the film versions of "Go to the Mirror" and "Acid Queen", the original versions of "Cousin Kevin" and "Pinball Wizard" are not to be topped, and don't make me choose when it comes to "Christmas" and "It's a Boy". (the latter, while brief, is just so beautiful)

Listening to both versions led me to the discovery of two different versions. In the original, Tommy is rendered psychosomatically deaf, blind and mute when he witnesses his MIA father return home and murder his wife's new lover. In the film, it's because his MIA father returns home and is murdered by his wife's new lover. In the film, "Eyesight to the Blind" is performed by a street preacher with a congregation that worships Marilyn Monroe. In the original, it is performed by the Acid Queen's pimp. So I've heard, at least, though this would mean the Acid Queen is referred to looooong before she actually shows up. Which would be cool, actually. Anyway.

The point is, there can be different interpretations of Tommy, not just in terms of story, but musically. Just listen to the two recordings and you'll find that the movie is far more experimental, the concept album more musical. It's impressive. And really, doesn't this mean we can interpret it in other ways? Like, with a new cast?

(in order of appearance)

Who is She: The nurse who delivers Tommy on Armistice Day.

Song: It's a Boy

Originally played by:
Vicki Brown & Margo Newman

My Choice:
Jill Scott ("The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", Why Did I Get Married?)
It's the voice, and I don't care how brief the role is. I want that voice.

Who is He: The man who comforts Tommy's mother after her husband is declared missing, believed dead. He is with her and Tommy for the new year of 1921...just when her husband arrives, very much alive. The Lover is killed, and it is his murder that helps to drive Tommy to his psychosomatic blind-/deaf-/dumbness.

Song: You Didn't Hear It (1921)

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor, SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Gladiator)
Oliver Reed (The Devils, Oliver!)

My Choice: Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Actor, SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Hurt Locker)
Anthony Mackie (Million Dollar Baby, Night Catches Us)
Good-looking young man like Anthony Mackie? Can't you see someone turning to him for comfort? An actor that I hope to become more familiar with, since he's rather strong in the three films mentioned above.

Who is He: The Acid Queen's pimp, promising miraculous cures for he who spends a night with her. I like to imagine him as her son, a user himself, maybe of her own wares.

Song: Eyesight to the Blind

Originally played by: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Original Song - "Tears in Heaven" (Rush)
Eric Clapton (Water, Blues Brothers 2000)

My Choice: Indie Spirit Winner for Best First Feature (Sweet Land)
Alan Cumming (Eyes Wide Shut, X2: X-Men United)
 Cumming excels at such roles. His brief turns in Burlesque and Eyes Wide Shut are memorably funny and sleazy, and the Hawker could surely bring that second part out of him.

Who is She: Originally written as a boy named Kevin, Keira is Tommy's cousin, left to babysit him for the night. The cousin, a sadist, proceeds to torture the helpless Tommy, hitting him, burning him, water-boarding him. I made Kevin into Keira for a few reasons. First of all, I think people trust women more as babysitters, and I believe women are more capable of seeming innocent and responsible where parents are concerned. Secondly, I'm intrigued by the idea of a woman in this role, demonstrating a monstrous cruelty. I'm an equal opportunist, after all. Thirdly, I couldn't think of any men that could bring what I was looking for.

Song: Cousin Kevin

Originally played by:
Paul Nicholas (Lisztomania, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (I Am Sam)
Dakota Fanning (The Secret Lives of Bees, The Runaways)
Fanning, I feel, can be kind of a robotic actress, sometimes emotionless. Like a sociopath. Like Cousin Kevin. And Fanning proved that she has the vocal chops to take on the role.

Who is He: Tommy's uncle, a drunkard who molests the helpless boy when he is left to babysit him.

Song: Fiddle About, Tommy's Holiday Camp

Originally played by:
Keith Moon (Son of Dracula, Sextette)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Cyrano de Bergerac), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Jean de Florette), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Green Card)
Gerard Depardieu (The Last Metro, The Man in the Iron Mask)

Who is She: A drug addict who claims to heal the sick through sex. I see her as an older, somewhat pathetic, drug-addled woman. She wants it even more than her desperate clients.

Song: The Acid Queen

Originally played by:
Tina Turner (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Shakespeare in Love), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (Mrs. Brown, Iris) and Best Supporting Actress (A Room with a View, A Handful of Dust), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Mrs. Brown), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Chocolat) and Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love)
Judi Dench (Nine, Jane Eyre)
Oh my God, I think she would just own this, with smeared makeup and a bedraggled old prostitute gait. Dench as the Acid Queen would be an instant Oscar nom, or at least a long-discussed curiosity piece.

Who is He: A local hero, the current pinball champion. He loses what he hoped would be an easy competition against Tommy. It is he who gets the word out about the miraculous Pinball Wizard.

Song: Pinball Wizard

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Original Song - "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (The Lion King)
Elton John (The Road to El Dorado, Spice World)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Social Network)
Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog, The Love Guru)
It takes a star to play a star.

Who is He: A doctor whose Tommy's father hopes can cure the boy. He is the one who diagnoses Tommy's condition as psychosomatic. He is intrigued by the boy's obsession with the mirror, though.

Song: Go to the Mirror

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor [in a Drama and in a Musical/Comedy] (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, As Good As It Gets) and Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Chinatown and The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Best Supporting Actor (Reds), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (Chinatown, About Schmidt) and in a Musical/Comedy (Prizzi's Honor), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (As Good As It Gets), Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Departed)
Jack Nicholson (Broadcast News, How Do You Know?)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Kinky Boots), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (American Gangster)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (TV's Endgame, Salt)
The specialist oughta be the smartest-seeming guy in the room. When isn't that Ejiofor? He's got this aura of confidence, intelligence and trust that you want in a doctor, a doctor that tells it like it is. Besides, I love watching him work.


What is It: The spirit guide, in a way, that Tommy sees in his mind, working as a narrator and someone for Tommy to communicate with.

Songs: The Amazing Journey, Sally Simpson

My Choice:
Anthony Mackie
It's an idea borrowed from Ken Russell's version, where Tommy sees visions of his dead father (killed by the lover in the movie). In this case, it's the lover he sees, but it all makes sense. Wouldn't it make sense that this is the guy you forever see in your mind? I'm taking a risk since I don't know whether or not Mackie can sing, but hey, Oliver Reed couldn't and he was great in the original film.

Who is He: A war hero who returns home after being presumed dead, only to find his wife with a new man. He kills her lover in a rage, only to realize that Tommy is in the room. Guilt-ridden, he searches for a cure with his wife.

Songs: You Didn't Hear It (1921), Christmas, Do You Think It's All Right, There's a Doctor, Go the Mirror, Tommy Can You Hear Me

Originally played by:
Robert Powell (TV's Jesus of Nazareth, TV's Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage)

My Choice: Golden Globe Winner/Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor [in a Musical/Comedy] (In Bruges)
Colin Farrell (Cassandra's Dream, London Boulevard)
Remember how the ruthless killer became a guilt-stricken antihero in In Bruges?

Who is She: Supposedly widowed, she is left to raise Tommy alone. She meets a man that she hopes can be a father for her son, until her real husband arrives and kills him. Mother is guilt-ridden, desperate and angry.

Songs: You Didn't Hear It (1921), Christmas, Do You Think It's All Right, Tommy Can You Hear Me, Smash the Mirror

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [in a Musical/Comedy] (Tommy) and Best Supporting Actress (Carnal Knowledge)

Ann-Margret (Bye Bye Birdie, Any Given Sunday)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe/Hollmann Award Winner/SAG Award Nominee for Best Actress [in a Musical/Comedy] (La Vie en Rose)
Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies, Inception)
Remember the quiet pain of her performance in Nine?

Who is He: A deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a celebrity due his championship pinball playing. He later becomes a Messianic figure, hoping to inspire others in the way of purity.

Songs: Go to the Mirror, Sensation, I'm Free, We're Not Gonna Take It, See Me Feel Me

Originally played by:

Roger Daltrey (Lisztomania, Buddy's Song)

My Choice:
Eddie Redmayne (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Savage Grace)
I like his face for this. It can be neutral, it can be animated, and all the while one would be comfortable with this as the face of the Messiah. I believe he trained with a music academy, too, so I know he's a singer. Right? That seems logical.


Robert said...

I LOVE this musical. Every single song is just amazing, it's so epic. Believe it or not I still haven't seen the movie but your recasting is great! Judi Dench as the acid queen is brilliance and I would love to see Marion Cotillard as the Mother. You know what else, Eddie Redmayne is the perfect choice for Tommy!

TomS said...

Walter, what a great updating of The Who's musical. It is dear to my heart too, having seen it as the last movie of the summer before entering College.

Ken Russell showed remarkable restraint in the original, and STILL came up with something usnusual even for 1975.

Marion Cotillard is a worthy choice for Tommy's mother; it would be a hoot to see her roll around in baked beans and chocolate sauce. She has the voice, and a chameleon-like way of transforming for any role. NICE.

Casting a female for the nasty Cousin Kevin adds an interesting dimension...And Gerard Depardieu as the molesting uncle? He would bring the house down.

Anthony Mackie and Colin Farrell...perfect!

Hold on...I just got a call from Jennifer Hudson's agent, saying he will make an offer you can't refuse to cast Hudson as the Acid Queen (her explosive voice would hold its own against Tina's! Can you imagine?)

And wait..a tweet from Harvey Weinstein, asserting that box- office will skyrocket if, for the flamboyant Pinball Wizard, you consider Lady Gaga (a gender-bending mega-star like Elton was then)...

And there's a Facebook campaign by Justin Bieber fans for the lead.....!

As always, Walter, a great job and lots of fun!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Fact: I actually considered Lady gaga and Justin Bieber for those roles! And Robert, thank you thank you thank you...BUT YOU MUST SEE THAT MOVIE! It's crazy brilliant, off-the-wall genius!