Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Tune Up

This week's Dance Party celebrates the gent who would probably be known as the preeminent song-and-dance man of his generation, if that term still held any meaning, eminent or otherwise.  He came of age, professionally, during the 60s and 70s, and though he is admired for his performance abilities, it is his innovative work as a director/choreographer which really put him on the map.
I love a spiral staircase.

In the early and mid-60s, Tommy Tune was just your average chorus boy, if your average chorus boy hovered around 6'7.  He had already appeared in several forgettable musicals of the period, and was a featured dancer on Dean Martin's variety show among others, when his career path altered. 

Michael Bennett
His friend and mentor Michael Bennett was summoned to save the musical Seesaw, which was in dire trouble out of town.  Bennett took Tommy with him, placed him in a supporting role, and allowed him to choreograph his own number.  "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish" turned into a showstopper;  Tune won the first of his nine Tony awards, and his career as a choreographer was launched. 
Michael Bennett's career was launched by dancing his own showstopping numbers in Subways Are For Sleeping and
Here's Love. He passed it forward to Tune in Seesaw, allowing him to create his own choreography for his big number. Tommy stopped the show and won the Tony.
Tune is responsible for a string of eclectic musical hits, including Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Nine, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, Will Rogers Follies, Grand Hotel, and My One and Only (he cast himself as the leading man in the last one, opposite Twiggy; he won a performance Tony plus an award for his choreography). 
With Twiggy in My One and Only.

Our hero was the first person to win Tony awards in four different categories (that feat has since been repeated by Harvey Fierstein), and he still holds the distinction of being the only person to win back-to-back Tonys as director and choreographer.

Tune's film career was limited (Hello, Dolly and The Boyfriend), which partially explains the fact that he is not better known nationally. 
Tommy teaches Streisand (in the purple) the joys of "Dancing,"
 in Hello, Dolly

As Albert in Birdie
But I've been aware of this gentle giant for decades, ever since I saw him in the national tour of My One and Only (Twiggy had been replaced by Sandy Duncan in that one).  Years later, Tommy appeared in a major revival of Bye, Bye, Birdie, which toured the country for a while, aiming for New York. I saw that production as well, and he was as charming as ever, but his costar, Ann Reinking, was a real mess.  The tour folded before reaching New York, as did subsequent new musicals Busker Alley and Dr. Doolittle
Michael Jeter brought down the house at the Tonys, winning
for Grand Hotel.

His work has been showcased in these pages before:  the showstopper from Grand Hotel, delivered by the dynamic Michael Jeter, appears here, and a slap-happy tambourine number from Will Rogers' Follies showed up here.  Both clips are terrific and worth a look.

Tommy has spent the last decade or so showcasing his tap talents in a concert act, as well as running an art gallery in Manhattan which, coincidentally, sells his own work.  He's lately been workshopping a disco musical, all about the notorious Studio 54, but the piece does not seem to be gaining much traction. It seems unlikely that another musical under his guidance will reach Broadway again, which is a shame to me, I'm such a fan.

Site of a memorable New Years Eve.
I still remember fondly the New Year's Eve in New York when a group of college friends and I were visiting New York.  We decided, rather than suffer the crowd in Times Square (we had done that the year before, and once is really enough of that), we would celebrate the evening in that most theatrical of watering holes, Joe Allen.  Seated at the large circular table next to ours was a boisterous group who could only have been theatre people.  Leading the party was Priscilla Lopez, from the original A Chorus Line, and Tommy Tune.
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine,
Tommy's riotous "double feature." Priscilla Lopez is
masquerading as Harpo Marx.
I'm not the starstruck teen who was thrilled to once sit next to an idol, but I was still excited to shake Tommy Tune's hand a few years ago, when he was in DC receiving an honorary Helen Hayes award.  I still have that hand.  He turns 73 next week, enjoy this tribute.