Tap Time with Tommy Tune

MANCHESTER - It's taken 55 years for Tommy Tune, a Broadway dancer, director and choreographer, as well as a winner of nine Tony awards and numerous other honors for artistic creativity, to make his Vermont debut.
Now he will.

On Tuesday, July 23, the Northshire Performing Arts will present Tommy Tune at the Arkell Pavilion of the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Tune will perform in a show, called "Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales," accompanied by a solo pianist, Michael Biagi, who has been his musical director and collaborator for the past 47 years. The show covers the arc of his life and artistic career and weaves in some dancing, some storytelling and music from both Broadway and other influences that have shaped his career, he said in a recent telephone interview.

The title, by the way, is not some happy alliterative accident. He thought about it carefully before applying the label to it and it more or less sums up the evening, he said.

He thinks of it as his personal Broadway biography, but it's more than that - it's also something of a memoir, he added.

Among the pieces he will perform next Tuesday will include his very first professional audition, he said.

"I remember it clearly," he said. "I arrived in New York on St. Patrick's Day and read in the trade papers there was an audition for 'boy dancers who sing,' so I went and auditioned and got the job."

He started off singing in the choruses of the various stage shows and worked his way up from there, he said.

Tommy Tune made his Broadway debut in 1965 with a part in the musical "Baker Street." In 1978 he directed and choreographed "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and has directed or choreographed eight Broadway musicals since then.

Along the way, the honors and accolades began to roll in with striking regularity. He won his first Tony Award in 1974 for featured actor in the Broadway musical "Seesaw," then captured another in 1980 for choreographing "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine." In 1982 he took home another Tony, this time for best director of a musical ("Nine").

He has won six more since, including four in the space of two consecutive years - when he won Tonys for best choreography and best director of "Grand Hotel" in 1990 and then repeated the double triumph in 1991 for "The Will Rogers Follies." He is the only person to have ever accomplished that feat.

"It's a saga," he said of his career, which has called on him to sing and act as well as dance, direct and choreograph, and each category of stagecraft calls for a different approach, ranging from the observant to the demonstrative.

"It's a lot of different disciplines under one heading called 'theater,' " he said.

Tune originally hails from Houston, Texas, and the nasal twang is still more than present, five decades later. He has been around long enough to see sweeping changes in the way shows are produced and the technology that drives them. And yet, at their heart, theatre is still more or less the same as it ever was - in the end, someone goes out onto a stage and tries to entertain an audience, he said.

"You put on your tap shoes, and you get nervous," he said.

At the same time, technology has made a big impact on the way shows are produced today compared to when he began in New York in the mid-1960s. Body microphones didn't exist then, computers hadn't made their presence felt and lighting was managed manually by technicians on dimmer boards. Nor could would-be performers hide behind the technology either, he said.

"We just did it, and the person who could sing the loudest got the job," he said.

Now 74 years-old, Tune keeps up a brisk schedule of shows and performing. "Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales" has him out on the road and touring. His longevity in show business has much to do having had the fortune to find something he enjoys doing.

"If you can get to the essence of yourself, that's what gives you your individuality as a performer," he said. "I've always tried to be honest and find what is my essence and share that with the audience." And that, in a nutshell, is really what "Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales" attempts to do - peel away the extraneous layers to get at the core of dancing and theater, he said.

"I have 55 years to draw on; it's a personal show," he said. "I'm just trying to get to the essence of it."

Tickets for Tommy Tune's performance, which is part of the "Hills Alive!" summer festival of the arts, are now on sale and can be purchased by calling Northshire Performing Arts at 802-867-4146. They are $40 each for adults; $15 for students 21 years-old and under. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on July 23.

The Dorset-based Northshire Performing Arts uses proceeds from its one annual summer concert to help fund art enrichment in area schools, and this year will be sponsoring a performance for several local schools of the musical "Madeleine and the Bad Hat" at Maple Street School on October 24.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions