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Flash Review 1, 12-18: Shut up and Dance
White Tie, Tails, and Too Much Talk from Tune

By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2002 Nancy Dalva

NEW YORK -- 42nd Street's Theater Row has a beautiful new house -- the first off-Broadway house the Shubert Organization's ever built (and its first new house for this city since 1928) -- called the Little Shubert, and it is a gem, with not a bad seat in a house of wide apart rows, steep rake, and broad stage. It's possible the stage is deep, too, but Tommy Tune has foreshortened it for "White Tie and Tails," an evening that's not quite Broadway fare, and not quite off-, either. Instead, this show reminds me of one of those nightclub acts in a '40s movie, where the plot grinds to a delicious halt so the star can sing and dance.

With a 15-man orchestra and conductor on stage behind him heating up old standards like 'Blue Skies,""Dancing in the Dark," "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Can't Be Bothered Now," and "Let's Face the Music and Dance, " among others, you wouldn't think Tune could go wrong, and he sure looks good. He performs on the horizontal, so that the intermissionless evening is like one giant crossover. (It's probably supposed to seem intimate, but the format has limitations.) Like the new theater, Tune's staging for this revue -- and his divine tailoring, tails courtesy of Ralph Lauren -- is impeccable, and smooth. The songs are, of course, mostly fabulous. Many are familiar from Fred Astaire -- this will bother you, if you adore Astaire and don't like seeing someone else do his numbers; or it won't. (It bothers me.)

Tune's toured the world, apparently, with this show -- they actually do "S'Wonderful" in German -- which is the kind of thing you might imagine playing the Palace. It's basically a Tune love-fest: If you love Tune, you will probably adore it, though you may be a tad bewildered by his partners in dance, The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, to whom he refers as his "chums." This trio of former street performers has been carrying on with him for 18 years, and they are in their own fashion endearing, if ill-assorted. (They feature one recent addition, who's kind of the group ingenue; a bearded dude who plays bass; and a spooky old cat who looks like Alec Guiness, if Guiness had played the banjo and tap danced. They all three dance, sing close harmony, wear straw hats, and carry on in a Vaudevillian manner.) However, with the very tall and incredibly soigne Tune at their center, the entire ensemble looks a little Show White and the Seven Dwarfish. It's sweet, but it lacks chemistry.

Tune (who is exceedingly fond of reminding everyone he is six foot six) has just played two years in Las Vegas, where he grew accustomed to chatting a bit with his audience (apparently a requirement of entertainers there), who probably had had some drinks. He tries this back here in Manhattan, as an entr'acte, but it doesn't play very well, except, perhaps, to the exceedingly credulous. The night I was there he began his little chat there by mentioning that "people on Prozac don't ask questions" because "people on Prozac have all the answers." His questioners all appeared to be from out of town . He did fine with those who wanted to know if he had a cousin named Mabel Tune in Dallas, but his inner peevishness emerged with the young lady who asked him why there weren't any women on stage. It was a bad moment, but the truth is, she had a point. He could have used a few dazzling back-up girls, or a couple of glam back-up boys, who could really put on the Ritz.

Meanwhile, Tune can still dance up a glamorous storm himself. His easy elegance does not age, and he makes you think tap dancing might be the fountain of youth. Coincidentally, as this show was opening, I received a press release about a revival of "Nine," a show originally directed by Tune, whose Broadway history is Tony-studded. He's always been a kind of theatrical perfectionist, and this evening is impeccably produced, even if the conceit is questionable. Tune's putting all his eggs in one basket. He's betting everything he's got on our loving him. If he just kept his mouth shut, and got rid of the hokey stuff, like the faux spontaneous encores, he might tap our troubles away. But not as long as he's playing down: "This show, " he informed us near the end, "is a mixture of vaudeville and verisimilitude. Look it up!" Hey! Duh! if you asked me, I could write a book....

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