Tune helped invigorate the American musical theatre with his direction of Nine, Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies, but all through his hits of the 1980s and 1990s he kept returning to what he loved from his early days: performing.
Even though the Broadway musical seems always in need of a muscular director with a keen sense of showmanship, Tune's return to New York Nov. 26 (for the show's first preview) was not behind the scenes (though clearly he staged this show), but on the stage, singing and dancing with the Manhattan Rhythm Kings in a 90-minute entertainment that has large strokes of vaudeville in it.
"That's what I call it," Tune told Playbill On-Line the day before his opening. "I say 'it's vaudeville and verisimilitude'!"
There are generations that don't know what it's like to see an actor stand before a curtain and sell a song. In this show, and in the concerts that Tune and the Kings have played over the past 18 years, Tune introduces that tradition to people who either miss it or have never experienced it. Does the MTV crowd even know who Ray Bolger is?
"It was before my time, too, but I did a lot of research," Tune, a youthful 63, said of the vaudeville world. "People used to make their entire careers doing one routine in front a painted drop. They could have a whole career traveling the country performing for a thousand people per performance — it's an amazing thing." For White Tie and Tails, Tune is with the trio of singer-dancer-musicians, the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, and a 16-piece big band conducted by Michael Biagi. The new 499-seat jewelbox created by the Shubert Organization, the Little Shubert, is on West 42nd Street near the new Theatre Row complex and the still-forming new home of Playwrights Horizons, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
In the tradition of Fred Astaire, who was Tune's hero, Tune performs a variety of numbers, including "(When I'm) 64" by Lennon and McCartney, "Tap Your Troubles Away," "Let's Fall in Love," "Everything Old is New Again," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Blue Skies," "New York at Christmas," "Shanghai Lil," "Stardust," "Midnight Choo Choo," "Nowadays," a Gershwin medley, a touch of Chopin, and many more. A Q&A section, a signature for Tune in his concert act, is part of White Tie and Tails as well. Tune told Playbill On-Line he and the Kings picked some of their favorite material from their past gigs together — and a lot of new songs for the show, but all of it has been freshly choreographed.
Tune, of course, has won Tonys for his performing as well as for his direction and choreography, so being in front of an audience is no stretch for the silver-haired 6-foot-6 performer, remembered for his Tony-winning turn Broadway's My One & Only. In between his memorable directing gigs, Tune appeared on national tour as Albert in Bye Bye Birdie; in residence in Las Vegas in the fantasia, EFX; and in concert engagements singing and dancing American theatre and popular songs with the Manhattan Rhythm Kings and others.
Tune is the only person in theatrical history to win Tony Awards in four different categories (Best Choreography, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical).
The Manhattan Rhythm Kings — Marc Kessler, Brian Nalepka and Hal Shane — are swinging actor-singer musicians who mix close harmonies, instrumental work and tap dancing. With Tune, they sing an unmiked a cappella version of Meredith Willson's "It's You." They also sing the folk specialty, "I'm My Own Grandpa," which Tune says he learned from his grandmother.
Original members of the Kings began performing on the sidewalks of New York in 1980. In 1992, the kings appeared in the Broadway musical, Crazy for You. Their first gig with Tommy Tune was back in 1984, when they assembled a Fred Astaire tribute.
Chase Mishkin, Leonard Soloway, Roy Furman and Julian Schlossberg with James M. Nederlander are the producers of Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails.
Musical arrangements are by Wally Harper and orchestrations by Randall Biagi, Larry Blank, the late Peter Matz (Grand Hotel), Don Sebesky, Andy Stein and Jonathan Tunick (renowned for Sondheim shows). Lighting is by Natasha Katz, projections are by Wendell K. Harrington, with sound design by Peter Fitzgerald.
A nine-time Tony Award winner for his performances, direction or choreography, Tune has helped create such Broadway shows as Nine, My One & Only, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, The Will Rogers Follies and Grand Hotel. He helmed Off Broadway's The Club and Cloud Nine. He spent two years starring in the Las Vegas production of the spectacular EFX at the MGM Grand Hotel, where he was awarded Best Production Star of the Year in 2001.
The Little Shubert is a 422 W. 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The run of Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails is open-ended. Performances are 8 PM Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 PM Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 PM and 7 PM Sundays. Tickets are $75. For information, call (212) 239-6200.