BWW Reviews: Ageless TOMMY TUNE Celebrates an Award-Winning Career with Delightful Café Carlyle Debut Show
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
I'll drink what he's drinking.
Because given the youthful aura and energy 75-year-old Broadway legend and nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune displayed on Tuesday during the opening night of his debut run at the Café Carlyle (Really? A "debut" after 55 successful years in the biz?), he must be knocking back martinis from the fountain of youth. In his aptly-named new show, More Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales (until May 3 with shows Tuesday--Friday at 8:45pm and Saturdays at 8:45 and 10:45 pm), the 6-foot-6 entertainer (whom Fred Astaire acknowledged at their first meeting in the early 1980s by saying "You're one tall son of a bitch") danced, sang, and, like a seasoned raconteur, regaled his audience with anecdotes about his colorful career, doing it all with the boyish charm he must have possessed when as a kid growing up in Texas he dreamed about being on Broadway.
With the Carlyle packed with critics and celebrities such as Mike Nichols (a direction doctor for My One and Only in 1983) and his wife Diane Sawyer, Mr. Tune entered the room wearing an outfit from neck to toes that was redder than his home state. The only costume pieces missing were a bright red Astaire top hat and a red cane. On this night, the iconic song and dance man would put on his version of the Ritz, performing on what he called "The world's tiniest tap stage." On his opening number, Tune put his red two-tone tap shoes to work on a bouncy "I've Got Them Feeling Too Good Today Blues," the first of his many mid-song tap dancing displays.
As a multi-award winning director, Tommy Tune knows how to direct himself. Although his set list included 18 songs and two medleys, he kept most of the numbers up-tempo and short and sweet, sometimes using a song (such as "You Gotta Have Heart" from Damn Yankees or Rosie from Bye, Bye Birdie, or "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" from My Fair Lady) as a lead in for one of his many career anecdotes that included much celebrity name-dropping. While his vocals may sometimes sound a bit scratchy at this stage of the game, he certainly knows how to, pardon the pun, carry a tune and sell a song in the intimacy of a cabaret room. And one can't help but get caught up in his boyish enthusiasm for performing, which makes the heart want to do the old soft shoe.
With solid support from his long-time Musical Director/Pianist Michael Biagi, Marc Schmied on bass, and John Myers on drums, Tune let loose early with a joyful tap on Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go," climbed a short ladder (as if he needed to be any higher) for a sweet rendition of Carol King and Gerry Goffin's "Up On the Roof," was charmingly playful on Cole Porter's "Please Don't Monkey With Broadway," and after dishing about a lunch he once had with the artist Salvador Dali (Tune spoke to him in Spanish while Dali kept answering in French), he tapped to a samba beat on Marcos Valle's "So Nice" (English lyrics by Norman Gimbel). The show's most heartfelt moment came when Tune recalled how his dancing co-star and mentor Charles "Honi" Coles suffered a sudden stroke in the middle of a scene during a Michigan performance of in My One and Only, but that the old trooper was still able to finish his number. Tune then followed with a lovely mash up of "September Song" and Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
Like all great entertainers, Tune saved the best for last, paying tribute to Honi Coles, Twiggy, Mike Nichols, and pretty much everyone who worked on "My One and Only" (which won all the major Tony Awards for a Musical in 1983, including one for Tune as Leading Actor) with a medley of George Gershwin songs. His energetic finale included a nifty tap break on "Embraceable You" and a wow finish with "Stairway to Paradise." Early in the show, this ageless performer told a story about once asking the legendary actor Lawrence Olivier why entertainers were driven to do it. "My boy," Olivier responded. "Entertaining is an expression of love." Few people alive embody that notion more than Tommy Tune. Long may this eternal Texas boy sing and dance. -END-
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff.