Entertainment :: Theatre

Tommy Tune: Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Thursday Nov 22, 2012
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Tommy Tune: Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales pretty well sums up the one-man band that will sweep onto the stage of Feinstein’s at the Regency for four more performances on Nov. 25 and 26.

The famously tall, beanpole-thin entertainer has become justifiably one of show business’ real treasures. He’s a singer, dancer, actor, director, choreographer, and, for all I know, scenic designer, art director and stage manager. If anyone can do it all, it would be this gentle giant.

Tune sweeps onto Feinstein’s stage, which suddenly seemed terribly, terribly small, like a tornado sweeping down the Texas plain. His aw-shucks grin going from ear to ear and those long, angular arms and legs seemingly everywhere at once, this guy could stand in for his native Lone Star State, where, as we know, everything is oversized.

That goes for his talent as well. Ever since Tune left his native Houston for the bright lights of Broadway, his trajectory has been steadily upward. The "Tall Tales" of the title refers to the arc of the evening, whereby Tune gives us a capsule memoir punctuated by singing and, of course, dancing.

In his very first Broadway tryout, on almost his very first day in New York, he tells us, Tune got his first part, in the chorus of a show -- and being a gypsy is much harder than merely being a star, he tells us. (I believe him.) The song he used for that fateful audition typifies Tune’s upbeat attitude about life in general and the tone of his Feinstein’s performance: "Heart" from "Damn Yankees" ("You gotta have heart/miles and miles and miles of heart").

If anyone has miles and miles of heart, it’s Tune. But I have to wonder how much of what he relates is truth and how much is, well, tall tales. To hear Tune’s version, nary a rainy day clouded his sunny life -- and for every thunderstorm, you can bet there must have been a rainbow at the end of it.

If there was one song that typifies the evening, it would have to be the Burt Bacharach standard "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head." "Cryin’s not for me" could be Tune’s signature line. Even Kurt Weill’s elegiac "September Song" here gets the easy-listening treatment. Tune’s first song might nominally be about the blues, but these are the happiest blues I’ve ever heard.

The problem with such an evening is that there no speed bumps, no roads not taken, no regrets, no edge. While Tune’s relentless optimism is refreshing in a bitter and cynical world, after a while, you might find the white-bread interpretations of songs and the sunny patter a bit cloying, as I did.

While always seeing the bright side is perfectly forgivable (his mentor, Carol Channing, isn’t exactly known for her dark shadings), I had more trouble with Tune glossing over his personal life. He waxes poetic about his apartment on the East Side, but there’s nary a mention of the summer house he occupied for several years, a vertical structure on the beach in Fire Island Pines.

The only time he alludes to his love life comes when he makes an oblique allusion to a love lost, which leads him into "I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face." Only here, the gender is taken out, so that Tune is singing "to your face." I can’t imagine that it would come as a great surprise to Tune’s legion of female fans that he worships at our church. Nor is there even a passing reference to the AIDS crisis that took away so many of Tune’s contemporaries. (To be fair, he was open about his sexuality in his autobiography and was out before being out and in.)

Working on "the world’s smallest tap stage," Tune marks most numbers with some soft shoe. In an intimate cabaret setting, one can’t expect much more, and it certainly is a pleasure to see the ease with which he still moves. His singing voice, as well, is still clear as a bell.

All of this makes the evening go by pleasantly enough, and perhaps it’s unfair to expect an angry screed from Tune. Certainly, cabaret in general usually offers much more of the musical equivalent of comfort food than punk rock.

Among his many other awards, Tune was named a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. If anyone has earned the right to such a moniker, it’s this one-man band.

At 73, Tune proves show business percolates in his veins. For those who want to experience one of the true greats of the Great White Way, head to Feinstein’s and be charmed. Just don’t expect to be challenged.

"Tommy Tune: Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales" will be playing two evening shows on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 at Feinstein’s at the Regency, on Park Avenue at East 65th Street. Call 212-339-4095 or to go to www.feinsteinsattheregency.com for more information.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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