Nostalgic Tommy Tune Is Puttin' On the Glitz

"Let's all get up and dance to a tune that was a hit before your mother was born. . . ." --"Your Mother Should Know"

John Lennon-Paul McCartney

What generation, upon reaching a certain level of maturity, hasn't complained that "they don't write songs like they used to"? Complaints were few Friday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center as Tommy Tune, with help from the Manhattan Rhythm Kings and the Pacific Symphony, recreated the golden age of popular music of 50 and more years ago.

"I hope you weren't expecting heavy metal," Tune remarked early in the show. Resplendent in lavender tails and a glittering silver vest, he added: "I'm overdressed for it."

"Tap Your Troubles Away" set the pace for the lighthearted evening. Tune's comfortable way with the lyric and his smooth, percussive tap style made it clear early on that this was to be a night without cares and challenges, and that the viewers' own memories were to play as large a part in the entertainment as what went down on stage.

He dubbed this mood "contemporary nostalgia," and the stately performer said his goal was to recreate the days when "if you wanted true romance, you had to dance." The song "Everything Old Is New Again" served as touchstone, both organizational and philosophical, for Tune's treatment of classics from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

Another name that figured prominently in the evening's proceedings was that of Fred Astaire. Tune's love for the sophisticated song-and-dance man is well known. He performed songs that Astaire had a hand in writing ("You Worry Me") and gave a humorous demonstration of Astaire's exit after their first meeting at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The show's most graceful moments came when Tune waltzed a microphone stand across the stage, recalling a number of Astaire's solo dance routines from the silver screen.

Tune cruised through numbers like "Blue Skies," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Puttin' On the Ritz" in his warm but undistinguished tenor. Particularly sweet was his treatment of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" accompanied by pianist Wally Harper, who also conducted the orchestra during Tune's half of the show.

Though Tune's range seemed limited, his heartfelt delivery easily carried him through the familiar numbers and his seemingly effortless dancing contributed to the comfortable feel of the show. This combination of grace and emotion was Tune's best achievement.

With Tune were The Manhattan Rhythm Kings (Hal Shane, Brian Nalepka and Tripp Hanson) who added harmonies, dance steps and the occasional laugh to the proceedings as well as instrumental support. The three men served to frame the lanky Tune's movements while showing some steps of their own. Particularly humorous was their re-creation with Tune of the Rockettes chorus line.

The orchestra, under assistant conductor Lucas Richman, opened with a program of American music that ranged from Morton Gould's "American Salute" to the seasonally appropriate "Turkey in the Straw."

The set was highlighted by Aaron Copland's "Quiet City," a serene composition that featured an exchange of simple lines between Earle Dumler on English horn and Burnette Dillon on trumpet. Percussionist Brian Miller on drums kept a medley of Gershwin tunes that began and ended with "They Can't Take That Away From Me" moving at a rhythmic clip. All things considered, Tune, who also appeared with the Pacific on Saturday, proved one thing: They just don't write songs like they used to.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World