With a Little Help from the Bard, Roger Daltrey Faces 40 and a Future Without the Who

updated 01/16/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

When The Who finally hung up their rock 'n' roll shoes after their mammoth 1982 tour, the group's fiery lead singer was not eager to give up his place in the spotlight. So Roger Daltrey pursued acting. Already the most visible rock superstar in movies, thanks to flamboyant roles in Tommy, Lisztomania and McVicar, Daltrey has now shifted into light opera and Shakespeare as well.

Although he is starting to flirt with middle age (he turns 40 on March 1) and does not have to worry about paying the bills, Daltrey is determined not to fade into sumptuous oblivion in his elegant Jacobean manor house in England. "I wasn't going to sit on my butt for the rest of my life," he says.

Director Jonathan Miller, after seeing McVicar, plucked Daltrey for the role of Macheath in a BBC television production of The Beggar's Opera, the 18th-century musical drama about London's lower classes. "Daltrey's a splendid man," says Miller, "always interested in new horizons and with absolutely no fear of starting from the bottom again." Says Roger: "I didn't even know what The Beggar's Opera was. Usually, I can't stand opera, all those singers with plums in their mouths."

For Daltrey, the score was an obstacle course he welcomed. Learning English folksinging "stretched me in a way I'd never experienced before—mastering that kind of language and making it live and breathe. The challenge was to make Macheath real. He was the equivalent of today's mugger and that's how I played him."

Last summer Roger was asked to audition for the role of the Dromio twins in The Comedy of Errors, also for the BBC. "I had one day to prepare the first act," he says. "I waded through it with a dictionary. I was totally panicked." Still, the old skills came in handy during the play's production. When he was a rock vocalist, "there was always a picture in my mind of what I was singing. Now I treat Shakespearean verse like a song. If you hit the right notes, it's great."

Daltrey has a solo album (Parting Should Be Painless) set for release in January and hopes one day to direct a film about the Kray twins, a pair of notorious London gangsters of the 1960s. But acting seems to be his future. His wife, Heather, 36, thinks it's been good for their marriage ("He's much better balanced, totally mellowed"), and Roger says he'd rather play before the cameras than concert audiences. "I feel fitter and better than when I was 16 and am quite enjoying my life at the moment. I know how to channel and control my energy and am better able to cope with my emotions. You just grow up, don't you? Which is not to say I don't want to remain childlike. Not childish. Childlike."

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