THE LEADING MEN: Song and Dance Man Tommy Tune Brings His Act to NYC, But Will He Direct Again On Broadway?

By Kenneth Jones
18 Nov 2012

Tommy Tune
Photo by Dominick Totino

You're playing Cap'n Andy this winter in Show Boat at Houston Grand Opera.
TT: Yes, I'm playing my first "dad" role. [Laughs.] I'm actually playing a grown-up role. It's so odd that I'm doing a show called "Arrested Development," and now I'm going to play a father figure! [Laughs.]

I have the feeling that this Cap'n Andy might tap dance a little.
TT: I think she might want him to — Francesca Zambello is directing it, and we've just had a little preliminary conversation. You know, Show Boat can kind of get twisted around: There's so many versions of it. I like her version of it very much, but she wants to incorporate some stuff for me.

Well, it's great casting because Cap'n Andy certainly is a showman, as you are.
TT: Well, that's what I said! I said, "Now, listen. I would never choose myself to play this role." I've done Show Boat many times — directing, choreographing and appearing. I played Frank, I played Rubberface, and I said, "Why did you choose me?" She said, "Well, Cap'n Andy is a showman," and when she said that word, which you used just now, I went, "Oh, I get it. Totally." That's what I do. I take my shows around. I'm not on a ship, but I fly out with my group, do a little show, we pack up, we go to the next place, the next port, and we do our little show. I can relate to that.

It's a show that always moves me in that it's about the ephemeral nature of show folk — how they move on, how things change. It was also an incredibly ambitious show for its time, as you know. Do you relate to it? What's your relationship with it?
TT: Well, I've done it so many times, The first time I ever did it, I was in high school, and then I went to college, and my first year in college they were doing Show Boat. And then, when I got up to New York, one of the first summer stock gigs I got [was] at the Spa Music Theatre in Saratoga Springs, they were doing Show Boat. So I've visited it many times. And I saw it when I was a youngster at the Dallas Summer Musicals, starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, but you know, it's such a huge show that we really can't afford to do that [size] show on Broadway anymore, it's just so huge. But, for it to be done by the Houston Grand Opera, I think they're going to be able to afford the whole black chorus and the white chorus and all of the scenery. It's a heavy show. I love it. It's epic. And, it's a history of America at the same time.

What's the status of the Studio 54-set musical Fifty*Four*Forever that you tested in Miami in 2011?
TT: It's so hard to find a place. It's not a proscenium show. It takes place on a 43-foot fashion runway, and there's banked seats on both sides. The reason [it's that shape] is because that was the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre plan that we had at the University of Miami. I liked it so much that way that I don't want to not do it that way. I want to improve it and expand it, but that plan — that ground plan — is what makes it possible. And, I can't find a place to do it. I found a place downtown, and then Hurricane Sandy [arrived] and just absolutely flooded this place, so that's gone. It's Mold City now.

You wanted an environmental, immersive space — a warehouse-like, big space, right?
TT: Yeah, it needs to be kind of big to support the cast. I used a cast of 26, and that's considered big, so I have to be able to seat a lot of people in order to make it make [economic] sense, you know? I have a lead on a place out here [in L.A.] that I'm going to go see tomorrow. It's called the Avalon, and it sounds very promising, and they're very interested. So we'll have to see. I may have to do it out here first and then hope for a place in New York. You know New York real estate: Really hard!

But your goal is a non-traditional, club-like space, correct?
TT: I just need a big space that I can put this 43-foot runway and bank seats on both sides of it. It doesn't have to have any particular quality to it because the show takes care of that. It's really about square feet.

In the meantime, are you and Fifty*Four*Forever librettist Mark Saltzman in touch and discussing elements of the show?
TT: Oh, yeah. What a great guy! Oh, I just love working with him. He's just splendid to work with. He's a great collaborator, and there aren't really those around anymore.