In 1969, the legendary rock band The Who released Tommy, a rock opera concept album that followed the story of a “deaf, dumb, and blind“ boy and the challenges he overcame on his road to become the “Pinball Wizard.” The story made its way to the screen in 1975 when the film Tommy was released, starring Jack Nicholson, Elton John, and Roger Daltrey in the title tole. Eighteen years later, The Who’s Tommy made its way to the Broadway stage when it opened April 22, 1993, at the St. James Theatre. The show won five Tony Awards that year: Peter Townshend for Best Original Score, John Arnone for Best Scenic Design, Chris Parry for Best Lighting Design, Wayne Cilento for Best Choreography, and Des McAnuff for Best Direction of a Musical.
Tommy closed June 17, 1995, after playing 899 performances, but the legacy of the show lives on. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., presents a special semi-staged concert of the production through April 29. This re-imagined version stars Casey Cott, Mandy Gonzalez, and Christian Borle. But Tommy marked the launch of the careers of some of Broadway’s great stars, from Michael Cerveris to Norm Lewis to Alice Ripley. Do you know who got their start on this “amazing journey”?
Michael Cerveris, Tommy
Tommy marked the Broadway debut for Michael Cerveris, who previously had numerous stints on TV shows like Fame, General Hospital, and 21 Jump Street. Cerveris earned his first Tony nomination for Tommy. Since that show’s closing, Cerveris has gained wide theatrical acclaim. He originated the role of Thomas Andrews in the 1997 Broadway production of Titanic. Cerveris also made his way to the West End in 2000 as the titular character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch after playing the role Off-Broadway in 1998. He originated the role of John Wilkes Booth in 2004’s Assassins—the role that earned him his first Tony Award. Cerveris then played the titular role in another Sondheim show, Sweeney Todd, opposite Patti LuPone’s Mrs. Lovett. He earned a Tony nomination for the performance. He then starred in Lovemusik, earning another Tony Award nomination. He took a break from musicals and starred in three consecutive Broadway plays: Cymbeline, Hedda Gabler, and In the Next Room. Then in 2012, he returned to the Broadway musical stage as Perón in Evita and earned his fifth Tony nomination. Of course, he struck Tony gold again when he earned his sixth nomination and second win for Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home. Cerveris can currently be seen on the small screen, where he continues to make appearances on Madame Secretary. It was recently announced that he will be appearing at the Provincetown Art House and Town Hall August 9 and 10.
Jonathan Dokuchitz, Captain Walker
Following his departure from Tommy, Dokuchitz starred in the 1995 revival of Company and appeared in 1997’s Dream. He went on to lend his voice to the chorus of animated films like Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He even provided the singing voice for John Cusack’s Dimitri in the 1997 film Anastasia. He made a 2001 appearance on Sex and the City as Danny and as Tom in the Sandra Bullock/Hugh Grant rom-com Two Weeks Notice before making his return to the Broadway stage in 2002 in The Boys From Syracuse as Antipholus of Syracuse. In 2003, he performed in the Burt Bacharach and Hal David musical revue, The Look of Love, and in the third annual benefit concert of Chess later that year. In 2004, he joined the cast of Hairspray as Corny Collins. He has since taken a break from performing and acting, making his last film appearance in the 2006‘s The Good Shepherd. In 2015, he performed in the The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin reunion concert.
Anthony Barrile, Cousin Kevin
After Tommy, Barrile continued his work in film and television, starring in films such as Kiss Me, Guido and Bury the Evidence and making appearances in shows like Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Falcone. In 2010, he produced the Tony-nominated production Next Fall. He’s currently been working on a screenplay that has yet to be produced and appeared in the 2018 Showtime mini-series Escape at Dannemora as Jerome.
Paul Kandel, Uncle Ernie
Kandel was nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Uncle Ernie. Directly following his performance, Kandel voiced Clopin in DIsney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and all of its subsequent projects. He joined the cast of Broadway’s Titanic as a replacement for J. Bruce Ismay. In 2000, Kandel starred as King Herod in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar. He recently was seen in Mabou Mines’ production of Faust 2.0 as Mephistopheles.
Marcia Mitzman, Mrs. Walker
Prior to her Tony-nominated performance in Tommy, Mitzman starred in the original productions of Grease, Chess, and Welcome to the Club as a replacement for Rizzo, the original Svetlena, and Carol Bates, respectively. She also understudied Nancy in the 1987 revival of Oliver! Mitzman was forced to leave Tommy shortly after its opening following an allergic reaction to one of the show’s special effects. After her departure, she made appearances in multiple TV shows like Frasier, Beverly Hills, 90210, The Simpsons, and The Bold and the Beautiful. In 1997, she originated the role of Mother in the pre-Broadway run of Ragtime, for which she won an Ovation Award. Mitzman has continued to perform over the years, appearing in regional productions of shows like Show Boat, 1776, and Triumph of Love in Los Angeles.
Sherie Rene Scott, Sally Simpson
Sherie René Scott was new to the business in Tommy, where she was credited as simply Sherie Scott. The three-time Tony nominee subsequently went on as a replacement for Marty in 1994’s Grease and Maureen in Rent. In 2000, she starred in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida as Amneris alongside Adam Pascal and Heather Headley. That same year, Scott co-founded Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records with then-husband Kurt Deutsch. In 2002, Scott originated the role of Cathy in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years Off-Broadway. (She would go on to co-produce the film adaptation in 2014.) She earned her first Tony nomination in 2005 for her performance as Christine Colgate in 2005’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. She reunited with fellow Tommy alum Norm Lewis in Disney’s The Little Mermaid as sea-witch Ursula in 2008. After leaving that production, she wrote and starred in Broadway’s Everyday Rapture, earning two more Tony nominations for Best Book of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical. In 2016, Scott starred in Broadway‘s The Front Page as Mollie Malloy and then in 2017 in Manhattan Theatre Club‘s The Portuguese Kid Off-Broadway. She can currently be seen on Showtime’s SMILF as Aunt Jackie.
Bill Buell, Mr. Simpson
Bill Buell continues to perform on Broadway. He played Edgar Beane in Titanic, Mr. Bannister in Inherit the Wind, Ragueneau in Cyrano de Bergerac, understudied Selsdon Mowbray in 2016’s Noises Off, and can currently be seen as Frank Nicklin/Percy Roberts in Ink.
Pam Klinger, Mrs. Simpson
After Tommy, Klinger joined the cast of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in the ensemble and as understudy for Babette before taking the role on full-time in 2004.
Cheryl Freeman, The Gypsy
In 1997, Freeman voiced Melpomene the Muse of Tragedy in the Gospel Chorus of the animated film Hercules. She went on to reprise this role in many of the film’s following projects, including video games and TV shows. That same year, she originated the role of Vy in Play On! She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 1999 for her performance as Bessie Toller in The Civil War. Freeman has since appeared in the films Where God Left His Shoes and Mystery Team, and TV shows such as Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Knick. She reunited with Norm Lewis, Alice Ripley, and Michael Cerveris in 2018 to celebrate Tommy’s 25th anniversary with Rockers on Broadway.
Norm Lewis, Specialist/Ensemble
Following his Broadway debut in Tommy, Norm Lewis went on to become a regular on the Broadway stage. He joined the cast of Miss Saigon as John before going on to originate the roles of Jake in the original Side Show and Eddie Mackrel in The Wild Party on Broadway. Lewis next appeared in Amour, and in 2006, he played Javert in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables, prompting his 2010 reprisal of the role in the show’s 25th anniversary televised concert. He also originated King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which he played until 2009. He then performed in Sondheim on Sondheim. But it was his performance as Porgy in 2012 that solidified his status as a Broadway star. Lewis was nominated for a Tony Award for his Porgy and Bess. He has also made numerous appearances in TV shows such as Gotham, Scandal, Younger, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He was the first black actor to play the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. In 2018, he appeared in CBS‘ Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert as Caiaphas, and joined the cast of Once On This Island that same year as Agwe. Earlier this year, he played Professor Harold Hill in The Kennedy Center Broadway Center Stage production of The Music Man. Lewis will be seen alongside Brandon Victor Dixon, Jessie Mueller, and Alex Newell May 18 and 19 in The Broadway Musical Concert in Japan.
Alice Ripley, Specialist’s Assistant
Before Alice Ripley became a Tony winner, she debuted in Tommy as an ensemblist and Mrs. Walker’s understudy. After leaving the production, she originated Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard, joined the cast of Les Misérables as Fantine in 1998, and starred as Bathsheba in Alan Menken’s King David. Her star reached new heights when she originated the role of Violet Hilton in Side Show (with Lewis). She received Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for her work alongside Emily Skinner as Violet’s conjoined twin Daisy. She then starred in the straight play James Joyce’s The Dead in 2000, before she returned to her rock roots and originated the role of Janet Weiss in the 2000 revival of The Rocky Horror Show. Off-Broadway, she has appeared in Cather Country, Li’l Abner, and The Vagina Monologues. In 2008, Ripley originated Diana in Next to Normal at Second Stage and continued on with the show for its 2009 Broadway premiere. The role earned her a Tony Award. She stayed with the role on its first national tour into 2011. Ripley appeared on the small screen in television shows like Royal Pains, Blue Bloods, and even starred as herself on the series finale of 30 Rock. In 2016, she returned to Broadway in American Psycho where she played Mrs. Bateman, among other roles. She and Lewis have performed on Playbill Travel’s Broadway on the High Seas cruises as well. Ripley was recently seen in the April 26 presentation of Peter(HER)Pan: A New Neverland as Captain Hook.
Maria Calabrese left Tommy in 1995 to join the cast of the revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and later Once Upon a Mattress. Calabrese also assistant-choreographed the 1999 Tony-nominated The Civil War.
Tracy Nicole Chapman appeared in Broadway revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as Miss Jones, The Music Man as Ethel Toffelmier, and Into the Woods as Florinda and understudy Witch. Chapman is most well known for originating the role of Shenzi in the long-running Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King. In 2004, she appeared as The Radio in the six-time Tony-nominated musical, Caroline, or Change.
Jody Gelb joined the original Broadway company of Titanic as Eleanor Widener in 1997. She also performed in the Broadway production of Wrong Mountain in 2000. In 2011, Gelb joined the Munchkinland tour of Wicked as Madame Morrible, which she continued performing with off and on until 2014. She also performed the role in the Broadway production in 2017. She returned to the Munchkinland tour earlier this year before leaving again in February.
Christian Hoff went on to tour with Jesus Christ Superstar, where he understudied King Herod before landing his Tony-winning role in Jersey Boys. His performance as Tommy DeVito earned him the statue in 2006. In 2008, Hoff led the cast of Pal Joey during Broadway previews, but was forced to leave the production after sustaining an injury. He currently tours the country with three fellow Jersey Boys alumni (Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, and J. Robert Spencer) as The Midtown Men, performing the greatest hits of the sixties.
During his run in Tommy, Donnie Kehr created Rockers on Broadway, a non-for-profit concert that raises money for arts education, alongside Pete Townshend. In 2004, he play the role of Gyp De Carlo in the La Jolla Playhouse production of Jersey Boys and went on to originate Norm Waxman in the Broadway production, and reprised his role in the 2014 Clint Eastwood film. He’s also appeared on TV shows such as Quantico, Gotham, Daredevil, and Z: the Beginning of Everything.
Lisa Leguillou‘s next project following Tommy was assistant choreographing the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. She went on to join the casts of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Summer and Smoke, and Chicago before becoming a full-time director, assistant director, and creative consultant for shows such as Wicked, Laugh Whore, The Odd Couple, and An Act of God.
Lee Morgan joined the Broadway cast of Brooklyn in 2004 before taking on the lead role, Taylor Collins, in 2005. In 2012, he wrote and recorded his debut solo album, Grace Grows, in partnership with his wife’s novel of the same name.
Timothy Warmen went on to perform in Broadway’s Side Show, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Paul Dobie took on a new role after Tommy’s closing in 1995: director. He assistant directed a handful of Broadway shows—Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wicked, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Cabaret (2015).
Tom Flynn is a longtime Doctor Dillamond in Wicked. After joining the Emerald City tour in 2008, he was brought on as a replacement in the Broadway production from 2010 to 2013. He can currently be seen reprising this role once again on the Munchkinland tour.
Michael Arnold went on to be Dance Captain in the 1996 revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He also performed in revivals of Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss Me, Kate, 42nd Street, and South Pacific. He was in Motown: the Musical in 2013.
Michael McElroy took on the role of Collins in Rent from 1997 to 1999. He also originated the role of Oscar D’Armano in The Wild Party. In 2004, McElroy was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Jim in Big River, presented by Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West. McElroy took over as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine in Next to Normal in 2010. McElroy did vocal arrangements for numerous Broadway productions including Street Corner Symphony and DIsaster! He also appeared in the ensemble of the 2017 revival of Sunday in the Park with George. He is also the founder of Broadway Inspirational Voices, a diverse, professional choir of Broadway artists, united to change lives through the power of music and service.