Back in Tune

Back in Tune Multi-Tony Award winner Tommy Tune directs and stars in the national tour of the new musical Dr. Dolittle.
Tommy Tune
Tommy Tune Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Throughout his illustrious career, the multi-talented Tommy Tune—who directed and choreographed Nine, Grand Hotel, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, among others—has displayed a particular gift for taking over troubled shows and turning them into hits. After an absence of over a decade from the musical theatre stage, he returns to try and work his magic again, this time as star and director of Dr. Dolittle, which begins a national tour on January 17 at the Hobby Center in Houston.

Dr. Dolittle, based on Leslie Bricusse’s popular movie of the same name and "The Doctor Dolittle Stories" by Hugh Lofting, first began touring in August. But the production shut down on Oct. 2 following poor reviews and weak sales. Before the decision was made to close the show, producer James Nederlander had invited Tune to replace Tom Hewitt in the title role. “I went and saw the show,” says Tune, “and told Jimmy, ‘I can’t play Dr. Dolittle until I play Dr. Tune.’ I wouldn’t have been any better than the guy who was in it. He’s extremely talented, but the show was in trouble. So they closed it down, and we’re retooling it completely.”

Tune, the only artist to win Tony Awards in four different categories (Best Director of a Musical, Best Choreographer, Best Actor in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical)—he’s won a total of nine—has not starred in or directed a show since the Broadway-bound Busker Alley folded on the road in 1995 after he broke his foot. During the past ten years he has performed extensively with the Manhattan Rhythm Kings in concert and spent time headlining in Las Vegas. And, he says, he hasn’t missed Broadway.

“I don’t spend my time missing things,” he says. “It’s so important to me to be in the moment. If I don’t love what I’m doing at the moment, then I go find something that I do love. And the truth is, the Broadway scene has changed. There are so few creative producers. There are no more David Merricks and Alexander Cohens. Instead of one person’s name above the title, there’s a conglomerate above it. Sometimes it’s an actual company, and sometimes it’s a whole bunch of people that we used to call angels, that just put in the money. So it’s like you’re answering to a board of directors. I don’t know how to do that and be in charge of a show. I’m for democracy, but directing a musical is not a democratic thing. I encourage everybody’s input, but someone has to say, ‘This is what’s going onstage.’ And that’s the director. It’s dictatorial. And when you have these other people that aren’t necessarily theatre people, and they all have different opinions, and you’re trying to serve so many masters—I don’t know how to do it. It’s like telling a painter how to paint a picture. If you want to paint it, here’s the brush. If I’m the painter, I have the brush and I choose the colors and I make the strokes. It’ll either be a good painting or it won’t be a good painting. But at least it’s authentic to that hand.” The analogy to painting is not accidental; Tune is an accomplished painter and has had art shows all over the country. “I get a lot of satisfaction from it,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll just paint through the night. I’ll get going when the sun is good and I’m on a roll and all of a sudden the sun’s coming up. I love it. When I’m on the road, I go to every museum in every city that we play and just fill up the well. That’s one of the great things about touring. It opens your eyes.”