Tommy Tune Taps into the Café Carlyle

By Steven Suskin
23 Apr 2014

Michael Wilhoite
Michael Wilhoite

Tony Award winner Tommy Tune made his Café Carlyle debut April 22. Playbill.com was there.

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Tommy Tune tapped into Café Carlyle April 22 with More Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales for a two-week run. Broadway's tallest director/choreographer made his debut at the famed room, and not without some initial drama; at his dress rehearsal, he jumped on the Carlyle stage and banged his head into the ceiling.

Working on a hastily-prepared low slab of flooring — a microphone at the edge, picking up the sound of the taps — Tune filled the room, strikingly dressed in a red suit with red lining, red vest, red cufflinks, patent leather red tap shoes and white-and-red striped clown socks. The socks, with vertical stripes, made Tune look even taller.



Tune is best known for staging musicals such as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Nine and Grand Hotel. He repeatedly made the point, though, that he is first and foremost an entertainer, explaining that he has spent most of his 55-year professional life performing. (The 75-year-old Texan added that he is now older and taller than he ever intended to be.) While the nine-time Tony Award winner enjoyed considerable success during his 15 years as a director/choreographer — his last Broadway outing was The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, a 13-day fizzle in 1994 — he seems to consider himself first and foremost a song-and-dance man.

Backed by a trio led by long-time music director Michael Biagi, Tune was smooth as silk during his 75-minute set. The act consisted of a lot of personality-filled patter illustrated by songs or fragments of songs. Tune told of his haste to get out of Texas; his early success at getting on Broadway; his years under contract to Fox in Hollywood; and his stint as a regular on TV's "Dean Martin Show," including a number he did sandwiched between Orson Welles and Zero Mostel. His 20 or so songs included "Rosie" (which he performed in a road tour of Bye, Bye Birdie), "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish" (which he introduced in Seesaw) and a Gershwin medley from My One and Only.

Mention was made of many of Tune's costars, with extended anecdotes about Twiggy and legendary tap-master Charles "Honi" Coles. The latter section — culminating with Coles suffering a stroke while onstage with Tune during a matinee of My One and Only in Grand Rapids, Michigan — was especially lovely. Tune not only mentioned Carol Channing and imitated Carol Channing; his onstage speech patterns suggest that he is a graduate of the Channing school of elocution.

More Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales is altogether charming and polished, although it appears to be sculpted from pre-existing acts Tune has performed before. In some sections, there were abrupt leaps that suggested rough cuts have been made. Still, Tune is in especially good form and appeared to be enjoying himself — an enjoyment that immediately spread among the packed room. Tune remains at the Carlyle through May 3.