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

Tune in Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails.
Photo by Howard Schatz

Why haven't you directed musicals on Broadway in recent years? Is it about the tough economics of new shows? Is there no material out there that attracts you?
TT: Well, I'd like to think that I don't pick up my paintbrush on any canvas and just start splashing away. When I read the script, if it activates my imagination, then I want to do it, and if it doesn't, then I don't want to do it. At this point in my career, how many more shows do I have left in me? I don't know. I'm in very, very good health, and I have lots of energy, but I don't want to waste a moment. The longer that you live, the more you realize that every moment — every moment — is precious, and you just don't want to waste your time. You want to extend what your God-given talent is in whatever way comes up.

I used to get confused about what I was doing, and I asked Michael Bennett. He said, "Tommy, it's all one talent." And, as he said that, I thought, "Okay. It's a big river of talent that's flowing, and then there are tributaries, and you can go off on that tributary and complete that and then come back to the main flow and ride a little bit further in the river. And, oh! There's another tributary — I'll try that." So, you just kind of [keep] looking. With this thing of 50 years in show business — [my] 50th year — I thought, "Well, it's time to kind of review this and put it together." We performed Steps in Time, but it's considered an expensive show to do now. This is where we've devolved because of the new economy: It's seven people — which I think is a tiny, little show — but many, many places can't afford that, so I just cut back and cut back and cut back, and now it's a piano, my music director of 37 years, Michael Biagi, a two-by-four stage — a tap stage — and me. Taps, Tunes and Tales, that's it!

But I'm guessing that you're sent scripts and sent scores all the time, right?
TT: Yes, but good scripts and good lyrics are few and far between. There are ideas for shows that I've found intriguing and then… You know, I've lived long enough that I've lost my "team." Wally Harper is gone, Peter Stone's gone, Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Comden and Green — they're gone. Maury [Yeston]'s still here, thank God.

When I was in elementary school, they used to grade you on other things besides reading and writing and arithmetic. There was this one thing that says, "Use this time and materials wisely." And, I got an A-plus for that. [Laughs.] So, I'm still trying to, wanting to, do that — use my time and materials wisely. So if someone sent me a great script and I started reading it, and it started activating the empty stage upstairs in my brain, and I started knowing what to do with it, you know, oh!, I'd be the happiest guy in the world.

American musical theatre needs you. Obviously, the Studio 54 musical is capturing your imagination. I just wish that in addition to that you were in discussions with new writers about new shows.
TT: Yeah, I keep getting a lot of offers to do revivals, and that doesn't interest me. First of all, I've done most musicals because in summer stock — where I learned to direct and choreograph — we did every show. I think I've done three Carousels, so that doesn't hold any interest to me.

You also broke ground over the years. You created new work.
TT: I'm interested in original. I don't want to put something on stage that I've seen before. It's the quest for the original entertainment. It's our job to give people something that we haven't seen before, and so much of it is formulaic. My brain doesn't work that way. If it looks like something I've seen before, and I'm doing it, then I go, "You're wasting what God gave you — your imagination." I'm wasting it by doing something just to be doing it, you know?

But, just to be clear, if the economics and the creative team and the project and the timing were right, there are new musicals in your future.
TT: Is that a statement or a question? [Laughs.] My heart and my arms are open. I'm holding my arms out. My right arm is out, my left arm is holding the phone so I can't put it out, but my gesture — my universal gesture at this moment — is: I'm standing on both feet, I'm opening both arms and my heart is there.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)