By Jordan Cohen
It would require countless solo shows such as Tommy Tune, Tonight!, currently running at the Café Carlyle, for Mr. Tune to tell his whole story. But in this elegant and endearing new autobiographical cabaret we get many highlights, largely from the first half of his career. There was the time he and Charles “Honi” Coles did an entire number twice to satisfy the applause of a rapturous audience during a performance of My One and Only. There was also the time Fred Astaire, Mr. Tune’s idol, came backstage at one of his shows, looked him up and down, and proclaimed, “You are a tall son of a bitch.” And then there’s the time when, shortly after winning his first Tony, he brushed up on his Spanish to impress Salvador Dalí at a private lunch; but Dalí thought it’d be more fun to speak to him in French. “I’m so confused,” Mr. Tune exclaimed, and without missing a beat, Dalí replied, “Congratulation, Mssr. Tune, confusion is where it’s at!”
Of course, there is nothing confusing about the enormous successes Tommy Tune has achieved in the American musical theatre, as well as the boundless love and respect he has received from fellow performers and audiences alike.
Tommy Tune, Tonight! marks Mr. Tune’s second residency at the Café Carlyle – he is filling in last minute for an injured Chita Rivera – and his star-quality is undeniable: he sings, dances (mainly tap, with a pinch of samba), and tells his stories with great pride and even greater ease. He endows each note, hand gesture, and tap step with a kind of mesmerizing specificity and deceptive simplicity (or “nonchalance,” as Mr. Coles, a mentor, taught him) that is much harder to achieve than it looks. He is graceful and debonair, an altogether southern gentleman of the theatre, especially when he allows his Texas twang to shine through.
Backed by his longtime music director, Michael Biagi, on the piano, Marc Schmied on bass, and John Myers on drums, Mr. Tune moves seamlessly between song and monologue, often interrupting himself mid-verse to tell a story, as if reminded of a dreamy memory right then and there. Mr. Tune is, indeed, a masterful storyteller, and balances perfectly a longing to recall and relive certain emotions with a need to communicate those emotions to the audience.
Mr. Tune opens the set with a rousing version of “Too Darn Hot” (Porter), putting his silver tap shoes to use early: “I can assure you,” he says, “I am offering a lifetime collection of syncopated, sophisticated tap rhythms.” George and Ira are given a prominent place in the show, with numbers like “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Little Jazz Bird” providing Mr. Tune the opportunity to highlight his effortless footwork. His connection with the audience seems especially strong during the latter song. Both “You Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Stairway to Paradise,” also by the Gershwins, are delivered with warmth of feeling and utmost assuredness.
Soaring notes and power ballads, you’ll find none; instead, Mr. Tune uses his supple voice to offer thoughtful, emotional, and charming interpretations of his songs. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (Bacharach and David), sung with a casual air and a touch of irony was especially charming. One of a few poignant moments arrives when Mr. Tune sings “I Could Be Happy With You” (Wilson), remembering with teary-eyed fondness his time spent filming The Boy Friend with Twiggy (with whom “it was love at first sight”). “Rosie,” from Bye Bye Birdie (Strouse and Adams), performed in a classic style that would make his idol Fred Astaire proud, is another highlight in a show packed with about thirty tunes.
Though perhaps not the kind of game changer as the likes of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, Mr. Tune has nonetheless cemented his legendary status, having won a mind-blowing ten Tony Awards, as performer, director, and choreographer, over more than forty years. He tells of starring twice with Twiggy, dancing with Tina Turner and an eleven-year-old Drew Barrymore, and performing with Joan Rivers and Chita Rivera. He even taught Phyllis Diller how to hustle. This diverse array of scene partners is undoubtedly a testament to his talent, range, congeniality, and adaptability – and, not to mention, resilience. Here’s to hoping for more shows like this from Mr. Tune, who clearly has a treasure trove of stories and talent to last a lifetime.
Photos: David Andrako
Tommy Tune, Tonight!
Running now through 1/22 (No shows on January 13, January 19, and January 23)
Café Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel 35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
or call (212) 744-1600