ali louis bourgazi as tommy on stage with his hand in the air
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

‘Tommy’ Revival’s ‘Listening to You’ Is One of the Most Moving Bits of Theatre I’ve Seen

I grew up in a household that loved classic rock. More specifically, my father shared his love of it with his kids, and my mom just put up with it. But one of his favorite bands was the Who, and I remember watching Tommy a lot as a kid.

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The musical is a rock opera about a boy who witnesses a crime but is told by his parents that he did not hear, see, or feel a single thing. It traumatizes Tommy into being deaf, blind, and nonverbal. The music is woven through the story differently depending on which version you’re watching. I remember the scene of “Smash the Mirrior/I’m Free” from the movie in picture-perfect clarity and I haven’t watched it in years. I just knew it so well from growing up.

Now, Tommy has a revival on Broadway starring Ali Louis Bourzgui as the older Tommy. Tommy’s story is split between three ages: the youngest, when he is still speaking; the middle Tommy who is nonverbal and cannot see or hear; and then Bourzgui’s take on Tommy. The way the show is staged has adult Tommy singing throughout, even before his debut as the current Tommy, and we hear his thoughts through his songs.

But Tommy, who stared at a mirror while he watched his father kill a man, still takes comfort by standing in front of it, looking through his own reflection. The spell, for Tommy, is broken when his mother finally breaks the mirror in frustration, and it almost snaps Tommy out of his trauma, and he can once again speak, hear, and see.

While “I’m Free” is an amazing song by the band (and in the show), it is not the song from Tommy that means the most to me.

“Listening to You” remains moving

the cast of tommy watching as tommy plays pinball
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

There are specific moments that take me back to watching things with my dad. I expected to feel that while watching the revival, but I wasn’t prepared for when it would hit me. During the show, Tommy gains fame for being a “miracle,” and he eventually abandons his family when he realizes what happened to him throughout the years.

But one thing he had sung from the beginning of the show is “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” It echoes like a mantra for all the versions of Tommy, and the last time we hear it in the show is paired with the song “Listening to You” by the Who. The way the revival is staged, Tommy sings it to the audience and the entire company eventually joins him. The audience member beside me was cheering, a woman in the balcony stood up like it was a concert, and I was sobbing thinking of my dad badly singing this song and tapping his feet just slightly off beat.

“Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountain, I get excitement at your feet,” the song says, and I did get the music from my father. Every song I listen to, it all stems from the taste in music he shared with me.

Tommy was our thing. It was something we’d watch together and sing along to, and I really did fear going to see the revival because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. Could I sit in a theater and watch something that meant so much to my dad and know that I couldn’t call him about it?

But sitting there and hearing “Listening to You,” I felt like he was with me, as cheesy as that sounds. I felt like my dad was giving me Tommy all over again, and it is an experience I will cherish for a very long time.

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.