BWW Reviews: Legendary Crooner TONY BENNET Dazzles in Rhode Island Performance
Tony Bennett earns a standing ovation the very moment he walks out on stage. The audience's response is both heartfelt and immediate, a mark of acclaim and a fitting tribute of respect for one of the greatest musical icons in the business.
Mr. Bennett, gracious and genial in the face of this applause, wastes no time in proving exactly why music lovers of all ages continue to hold him in such great esteem. The spry 87-year-old takes full command of the stage and flawlessly performs some of the most beloved standards from the Great American Songbook, including "Steppin' Out," The Best is Yet to Come," "I'm Old Fashioned" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."
It's hard to believe that Mr. Bennett is 87; the spring in his step is truly enviable - he even delights his audience with some brief, snappy footwork and a playful dance spin - and his vocal performance is as impressive as ever. His softest of whispers and powerful, show-stopping belts garner further spontaneous standing ovations all throughout the 90-minute concert.
With Tony Bennett interpreting lyrics as only he can, even the most familiar of tunes in his repertoire stirs listeners' emotions anew. This musical master tells a story when he sings, and numbers like "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (the first song he recorded) or the melancholy "Once Upon a Time" have a deeply poignant resonance. Mr. Bennett also performs with animated mischievousness during "Who's Got the Last Laugh Now?" and "When You're Smiling," charming the audience and keeping the house's energy level at a notable high from the first note of music to the evening's final bows. Not to mention, it is a real thrill to experience the signature song "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" live and in person from Mr. Bennett's own lips.
Perhaps his most memorable vocal presentation comes at the concert's close, when Mr. Bennett sets his microphone down on the piano and sings "Fly Me to the Moon" entirely a cappella. A hush descends, and it seems the audience collectively holds its breath to hang on every note. Mr. Bennett here again proves the fine, enduring qualities of his magnificent voice as he, unaided by electronics, still sharply projects each line of the song through to the very back of the house.
All of Mr. Bennett's movements exude class and elegance, and he treats his audience members like old friends, offering a gentle salute or blowing a kiss of gratitude to the concertgoers in recognition of their support. Mr. Bennett also relates wonderful stories - Charlie Chaplin once sent him a personal note of thanks for reviving popular interest in Chaplin's song, "Smile" - and makes wonderful little quips and asides throughout the concert. During "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," for example, he pauses after the line "I got the routine / So drop another nickel in the machine" to put his head in his hands, sigh and mutter, "A nickel? Oh boy."
Joining Mr. Bennett on stage is a hands-down sensational quartet, and Mr. Bennett steps aside to give these outstanding musical talents - guitarist Gray Sargent, bass player Marshall Wood, "Count Basie's favorite drummer" Harold Jones, and Providence's own Mike Renzi on piano - their chance to shine the spotlight. The men are all masters at their craft, tremendous performers, and they earn the audience's most genuine and enthusiastic applause on their own merits.
Special guest Antonia Bennett, Mr. Bennett's youngest daughter and his "sweetheart," also takes the stage, opening the evening's performance with a mix of pop favorites and jazz standards ("Taking a Chance on Love," "You Were Always on My Mind," "Sail Away"). Later Antonia joins her father in an adorable duet of Stephen Sondheim's "Old Friends," where the two not only sing, but also improvise a charming, lighthearted dance number as well.
Though he has devoted more than 60 years to recording music (garnering an astounding 17 Grammy Awards along the way), Mr. Bennett shows no signs of slowing down or resting on his laurels. He continues to sing on tour and, later this year, he will release a new jazz album titled Cheek to Cheek in collaboration with Lady Gaga. Mr. Bennett is undoubtedly at home on stage and the performance work he loves keeps him young and young at heart.
Tony Bennett played the Providence Performing Arts Center for one night only, Saturday, March 8, 2014. For more information about Mr. Bennett's upcoming tour stops and CD releases, please visit www.tonybennett.com.
Photo credit: Larry Busacca