Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Roger Daltrey performs Tommy: Wolf Trap, Vienna, VA, June 12, 2018

The Filene Center at Wolf Trap, Vienna VA

June 12, 2018

“Have some respect! It’s a ***in’ OPERA!!” ~ Keith Moon

It is, more than it was in 1969. Maybe not the most-operatic version by any means, but we’re in that territory – with tympani, harp, cello, bassoon. Yet it’s more rock and roll than the Broadway Tommy (which is good.) This show marries the power and grace of a real orchestra with the punch and energy of the rock band. And Roger Daltrey (the true voice ofTommy since the beginning) is really nailing it. If you haven’t noticed (we have!) he’s singing better than he was five or 10 years ago! That’s not supposed to happen; he’s 74 and just handling this comfortably.

I watched some old 1970-era Tommy shows recently and there were issues then – mainly with hearing himself over a wall of amps and crashing drums. Now, there are better monitor systems (thanks to Bob Pridden, our longtime sound and monitor man – now retired) and singers have it somewhat easier.

I have not yet this explained this clearly, but our show tours with the band, Keith Levenson (conductor), and Katie Jacoby (conductor’s assistant and violin soloist.) In each town we will use their local orchestra; we provide the sheet music and they learn it on the day, play it that night. This orchestra is the Wolf Trap’s own, called on to play a variety of things. Usually it’s called a ‘pops’ orchestra when you have the capability to do jazz and pop and things beyond the strict classical material. Often the ‘serious’ classical orchestras won’t want to play behind a popular singer or with a rock band. These orchestras are ready and willing.

We’ve had some luck with the first two ensembles, and hopefully more to come. This is their job, and they do it well. It helps that the arrangements are NOT written to be difficult. They don’t have extremely fast runs or complicated passages and timing. This is a simple device to allow a sight-reading set of players to handle the music almost perfectly the first day they see it. It works well – just challenging enough to be good, but simple enough to be playable and sound good alongside the rock band.

We’ve seen both the Bethel and Wolf Trap musicians working privately on their parts, practicing something on their own between rehearsals and show. This is nice; it shows they care and we’ll likely have a better performance if they’ve had time to work out their more-difficult moments beforehand.

I’m exhausted today, so I’ll keep this one short. These shows are more hard work and intense than any Who or Daltrey show. Thanks to our Wolf Trap friends – and we look forward to the next one in Western Massachusetts called . . . Tanglewood!


‘Baba O’Riley’ featuring the fabulous violin coda by Katie Jacoby. Video by Patrick Hoffman.


It’s a Boy
Amazing Journey
Eyesight to the Blind
Cousin Kevin
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
Fiddle About
Pinball Wizard
There’s a Doctor
Go to the Mirror!
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Smash the Mirror
I’m Free
Miracle Cure
Sally Simpson
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
See Me, Feel Me

Who Are You
Baba O’Riley
Always Heading Home