Is Broadway showman Tommy Tune too oversized a talent to be contained by a cabaret stage? The answer seems to be: literally yes, but figuratively no. As Tune told the audience at the opening performance of his Café Carlyle-debut show, “More Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales,” his celebrated height put him in danger of sustaining a cracked skull in the club. So, management at the Carlyle dismantled the platform to give him more headroom.
Tune, however, proves he needs no special accommodation when it comes to scaling down his ample, theatre-oriented personality for the dimensions of a small club. Early on in the program he speaks about having started his career singing and dancing in his parents’ living room back in Texas, noting that he’s now returned to a similarly familial space at the Carlyle.
It’s no big surprise that the show has an autobiographical theme—Tune has plenty of material to work with. He revisits highlights from his 55 years in show business and makes it clear that he’s never had second thoughts about his career choice. (One of his first numbers is a showbiz-is-my-life anthem by Larry Grossman and Buz Kohan called “I Love It.”) With easygoing charm, he describes being an aspiring chorus boy from Texas who moves to New York and, after a half-minute of struggle, lands a job in a show.
Though confined to a relatively cramped playing area, Tune—wearing a bright red suit and a headset microphone—tap dances extensively throughout the evening. Dance for him seems to be a necessary extension of song, and I believe his show would fall woefully short if he just stood onstage and sang into a standard microphone. His dancing is often jaunty if not as athletic as in decades past. (He talks in the show about injuries that curtailed his dancing life.). His moves are often sly and quiet: soft-shoe dancing with taps on. He even manages to tap his way effectively through a gentle samba number, “So Nice” (Paulo Sérgio Valle, Norman Gimbel, Marcos Valle).
Like his role model, Fred Astaire, Tune has a singing voice that is conversational, slightly croaky at times, and extremely genial and welcoming. When he turns up the volume and sustains a note, however, he proves that he’s more than just a talented talk-singer.
Occasionally, he shares a bit about his personal life. One of the musical highlights of the show grows out of a brief reference to finding and then losing romantic love. He sings a heartfelt “It Could Happen to You” (Johnny Burke, James Van Heusen) to riff on the “finding” part, then segues into a wistful rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” to express the “losing.”
However, Tune devotes most of the evening not to bittersweet reverie, but to recalling with joy and humor the glamorous life that put him on speaking terms with everyone from Astaire to Queen Elizabeth II to Salvador Dali. Some might find his program a little slick and his patter a bit regimented. (One of the most disarming moments on opening night was a rare unscripted aside—which was provoked by a friendly comment from an audience member—in which Tune told us that he didn’t appreciate mobile-phone “selfies” because they make people look dumb.) Even when he’s reciting his life story by rote, however, he comes across as fully “in the moment” and wholly connected with his listeners.
Tune’s trio of bowler-hat-sporting musicians—pianist and musical director Michael Biagi, bassist Marc Schmied, and drummer John Myers—are total pros who seem fully in sync with the star’s sensibility and who contribute to the “That’s Entertainment” vibe that carries the evening, especially in an extended sequence featuring crowd-pleasing songs by George and Ira Gershwin.
“More Taps, Tune and Tall Tales”
Café Carlyle – April 22 – May 3