‘Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Tommy Tune’ at The Kennedy Center by David Friscic

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Tommy Tune’s tall, lanky frame and loquacious manner is a veritable show unto itself. As the iconic Broadway Theatrical legend proved at The Kennedy Center’s Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Series concert last night in his sensational one-man show entilted Tommy Tune: Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales, Tune still represents almost the last flame -out of the Golden Age of the American musical. The multiple award-winning Tune has won plaudits as Director, Choreographer, and Actor —he reached his peak in the 1970s and 80s when he created a sensation in the musical Seesaw and then went on to Director and Choreographer chores in such hits as The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasNine,Grand Hotel, and The Will Rogers Follies. He deservedly continued his high-profile streak by once again performing onstage – when he paired with super-model Twiggy (making her Broadway debut) in the sweet and sentimental My One and Only.
Tommy Tune. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Tommy Tune. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Though Tune’s peak period and profound influence may have flamed-out at this current moment on Broadway (think of the many British transfers and Disney special-effects musicals!), the talent on display at Tune’s one-man show brought back this ‘Golden Age of Broadway’ in an invigorating and delightful eighty-five minutes. The tale of a star-struck boy who leaves Texas to strike out for his big break in the Big Apple permeated through Tune’s charming yet somewhat offbeat and quirky persona, as he interwove myriad tales of touring, being in the chorus and, eventually, getting the breaks on the boulevards of Broadway through hard work that truly mirrors a remarkable talent. Tune is celebrating his golden decade on the stage and he proudly stated that he officially begins his fifty-fifth year in show business.

Tune loped out on stage to sustained applause wearing a bold red form-fitting pantsuit complete with red tap shoes. He then proceeded to launch into an uptempo “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues”and gave a zany impression of friend Carol Channing and spoke of meeting Fred Astaire who said “You are one tall son-of-a bitch” upon meeting him. The songs “I Love It”, “I’m Leavin’ Texas,” and “You Gotta Have Heart” were nicely sung with an ebullient – yet a plaintive expressiveness. Tune’s vocal chops are on the lighter side these days but he understands the power of phrasing and a well-written lyric; he was especially gifted at elucidating each word for ultimate effect. The highpoints of the show had to be the interspersion of his clean and stylized tap dancing at very well-chosen moments between and during the musical numbers. Indeed, Tune’s meticulous and highly-stylized theatrical tap dancing was the highlight of this show.

Tune gave a grateful and heartfelt nod to his Musical Director and Pianist Michael Biagi. He went on to say that he and Mr. Biagi had been together for thirty-seven of his theatrical years. Biagi provided splendid interplay and accompaniment to Mr. Tune throughout the evening’s nineteen musical numbers and medleys. Production values were futher enhanced by the top-notch Production Supervision and Lighting Design of Patrick Rinn – a well-chosen choice was the saturation of red light enveloping the stage.

Tune’s patter continued on its witty course, as he described his trip to Russia where he tap danced on the exact spot where Lenin was laid out and saying that you never know what to expect in a foreign country. His described his enjoyment while touring with Ann Reinking in the touring version of Bye, Bye, Birdie, and then sang a joyous rendition of “Rosie.”

Lighting Designer Rinn worked wonders again with an evocative star-lit sky as a backdrop to Tune’s rendering of the contemporary pop hit “Up on the Roof” as Tune climbed an actual ladder to reach for the stars. Tune then threw himself into a lively rendition of the whimsical Cole Porter standard “Don’t Monkey With Broadway,” as he appeared to be savoring every morsel of delicious wordplay in this number.

A very intricate combining of the songs “September Song” and “Wake Me When September Ends” made for a very sensitive medley that kept the audience spellbound in rapt stillness. Tune then “upped the ante” by surprising the audience by having pianist Biagi vamping into the opening strains of music from A Chorus Line, only to then propel himself into a quirky cover of Bacharach’s classic pop standard “Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head.”

Next, Tune sang  the wonderful song “Charleston” (by Wilson) and, then, he amazed the audience with a full version of the Charleston. So relaxed was Tune that he looked like a lanky, loose puppet having his limber strings pulled for ultimate effect.

Tune once again broke up the singing and dancing pace to regale the audience with the admission that he has been very fortunate to work with so many great leading ladies and dance partners. The list seemed endless as he mentioned them all including Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Ann Reinking,Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Sandy Duncan, Lucie Arnaz, Lauren Bacall, Marge Champion, Drew Barrymore, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller! Every bit the gentleman, he acknowledged them all but I could not help but sense a special deep connection with the finally-named Twiggy. Tune showed a great fondness for her and spoke at length in glowing terms about their challenging yet enjoyable work preparing  the show My One and Only for its’ Broadway opening. He, quite appropriately, took this opportunity to fling into a sentimental medley of Geshwin standards with the highlights being “They All Laughed” and “Stairway to Paradise.”

Tune spoke of the productive learning experience he had working on the old Dean Martin television variety series working with such luminaries as Peggy Lee and Lena Horne, and he spoke of how he learned a lot while doing commercials and films in Italy.

Tune ended his set with two encore numbers starting with the infectious “Lord Help Me, I Love It” and concluding with Porter’s ruminative “Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye.”

As Tommy Tune shuffled off the stage, one could lament the passing of the fascinating era of American Musical Theatre that Tune made happen, but one could also be grateful to have had the opportunity to see this theatrical legend relive those golden moments.

Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Tommy Tune was performed for one-night-only on Friday, November 1, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future events, check their calendar of events.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.