Tommy 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 most: 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 will not be behind the scenes, but on the stage, in a new entertainment, Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails.
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.
For White Tie and Tails, he is reunited with the Kings and performs with a 16-piece big band, christening the new Little Shubert Theatre, a house operated by the Shubert Organization as a viable intimate Off-Broadway venue unto itself, but also a testing ground for possible future Broadway works. Official opening for White Tie and Tails is Dec. 18. Top ticket price for this inagural attraction is $75.
In the tradition of Fred Astaire, who was Tune's hero, Tune will perform "a non-stop series of song and dance numbers" by songwriters including Johnny Mercer, Howard Dietz & Arthur Schwartz, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Peter Allen & Carol Bayer Sager, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Meredith Willson, Cole Porter, Walter Donaldson, Al Dubin & Harry Warren, Hoagy Carmichael & Mitchell Paris, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Gordon Jenkins, Jerry Herman and more. 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. Original members of the group 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.
Music director Michael Biagi conducts a 16-member big band, with arrangements by Wally Harper and orchestrations by Randall Biagi, Larry Blank, the late Peter Matz (Grand Hotel), Don Sebesky, Andy Stein and Jonathan Tunick (known 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.
— By Kenneth Jones