Entertainer and presenter Jonathan Wilkes (pictured), who will star this month in a new tour of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, today launched the production to the media with a live performance of one of the show’s numbers, “Sensation”.

When asked at the press reception, held at the West End’s Lyric Theatre, why he had accepted the role, Wilkes replied: “I’ve always wanted to play this part, it’s a big challenge for me. When Bill Kenwright (the show's producer) approached me, it was such an honour. I’m a massive Who fan.” He added, “I’m just raring to go and so are the rest of the cast”.

Kenwright was also on hand today and, after a lot of football banter (he and Wilkes are both big fans and Kenwright the chairman of Everton FC), he commented: “Coming from Liverpool, you only like Liverpool bands, but The Who were different. It’s a musical that’s difficult, I know, but I know the background to the show, how it came about. And, the truth is, I love rock ‘n’ roll more than anything else - except football - and every year I do a rock and roll musical for me.”

Simon Davis from the Teenage Cancer Trust was also in attendance at today's event. For decades, the charity has been supported by The Who, who have raised in excess of £3 million for them. Kenwright said he's keen to continue this support and pledged that royalties from each performance on the tour would be donated to the Trust.

Tommy features many of The Who’s hits, including “Pinball Wizard”. Wilkes has previously performed on stage as Danny Zuko in Grease, as both Jesus and Judas in Godspell and as Dr Frank N Furter in the 30th anniversary production of The Rocky Horror Show.

His career started in 1996 when he won the Cameron Macintosh Young Entertainer of the Year Award for singing Tom Jones’ classic, “Kiss”. He headed to Blackpool and became the youngest person to star in his own show at the Pleasure Beach. Wilkes has also presented for TV shows You’ve Been Framed and Love on a Saturday Night.

Tommy is a serious musical about a troubled child who becomes deaf, dumb and blind, but later gains the respect of his peers when he’s revealed as a pinball champion. A film of The Who’s original album was made in 1975 by Ken Russell. The subsequent stage show won three Tony Awards on Broadway in 1993 and, in London, won the 1997 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production.

The new touring prodution opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on 16 February 2005 and will then visit Southampton, Coventry, Hull, Southend-on-Sea, Glasgow, Manchester, Brighton, Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Woking and Nottingham. It's directed by Guy Retallack and Keith Strachan and features additional music and lyrics by Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

- by Caroline Ansdell & Hannah Kennedy