By: Marilyn Lester
On the first day that Tommy Tune rolled into New York City he auditioned for a Broadway show and got the part. He hasn’t stopped working since, picking up nine Tony awards along the way. More Taps, Tune and Tall Tales is a heartfelt telling of an amazing career, seamlessly compacted, and polished to a high sheen.
Tune has been touring this show since early 2012, making his debut at the Café Carlyle just now. What took so long, you ask? Never mind, we have been blessed. From the opening number, “I’ve Got Them Feeling Too Good Today Blues” (Leiber and Mike Stoller) through Carol Hall’s “I’m Leaving Texas,” to “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” (Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields), plus many more, each song is a perfect fit for the life experience being shared.
At six foot six inches tall, Tune has learned (one suspects from very early on) to embrace his height. In fact, the stage at the Café Carlyle was removed to accommodate it after a head-with-beam encounter in rehearsal. Recounting his first meeting with Fred Astaire, he tells, Astaire gazed up at me and said, “You are one tall son-of-a-bitch.” Tune is good natured about it, and that’s a key to the warmth that emanates from him throughout the performance. Tune has been called the quintessential song and dance man, and that he is, plus a man born to the stage. Cole Porter’s “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” spoke to the unique existence of a life upon the stage. Tune is witty, funny, charming and thoroughly engaging. “You Gotta Have Heart” (Richard Adler and Jerry Rose) he sang, and everyone felt it.
Throughout the evening’s performance, Tune paid homage to the many mentors and good friends he’s had throughout his wondrous 55-year career as a dancer, singer, choreographer, director and producer in stage and film, Carol Channing among them (and yes, he mimicked “the” voice – how could anyone not). He recounted a long list of leading ladies, a who’s who of show business, including Chita Rivera (Bye Bye Birdie and “Everything is Rosie” by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse), and ending with the very special relationship he had with Twiggy during The Boyfriend, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (Lerner and Loewe).
Two heart-wrenching stories emerged among the upbeat show. The first was a retelling of his losses from Hurricane Sandy: the storage unit containing his life’s work of memorabilia and paintings (he’s a first rate painter too) was flooded, destroying everything. After the initial horror wore off he decided, touching his heart, “Tune, you don’t need the proof, you have the truth.” Indeed, “It Could Happen to You” (Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen).
Legendary tap dancer Charles “Honi” Coles was a mentor and good friend to Tune. They worked together in My One and Only on Broadway (Coles won a Tony award for it) and in the touring company. One afternoon in Kansas City, Coles, seated in a barber’s chair, seemed to miss his cue.Tune kept feeding him lines. Eventually Coles simply rose from the chair and went into his dance, executing it perfectly. He signaled a “no encore,” and was taken offstage. Honi Coles had suffered a stroke on stage. In the moment he couldn’t speak, but he could still dance – his last; he was never able to dance again. But “The crowd went crazy, and the house came down, when Daddy wore his very soft shoes.” (Marshall Barer and Mary Rodgers’ “Very Soft Shoes”).
The evening came to an upbeat end all too soon with a George and Ira Gershwin medley of “They All Laughed / Soon / They Can’t Take That Away From Me / Embraceable You / I Got Rhythm / Stairway To Paradise .” The encore number, Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” in the true show business tradition, left ‘em wanting more.
Tommy Tune was backed up by long-time Musical Director Michael Biagi on piano, Marc Schmied on bass and John Myers on drums.
More Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales, April 22 – May 3, The Café Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue. 212.744.1600.