Tommy Tune brings his new semi-autobiographical show Steps in Time to Strathmore Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, featuring the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.
Talk about someone who deserves teh term “legend.”* Not only has Tune turned out incredible performances in shows such as Seesaw, Busker Alley, and Bye Bye, Birdie, he has directed theatrical landmarks such as Nine and Cloud 9. In all, he has won nine Tony Awards in four different categories.
It was a thrill to be able to interview him, and I am very pleased that he is the inaugural male performer for this blog’s “Diva 5+1” series.
1. Please describe a “perfect” performance experience that you’ve had.
Well the perfect performance is one that you’re so into that you don’t remember it, and it occasionally happens. You can’t will it to happen, but you can ask for it. But then you also ask for the happy accident, whatever that might be, because that’s what we have that people who work on film don’t have. We are out there and it has to go on, whatever happens. So you always ask for the “happy accident” so the audience knows that you really are live and you really are up there and you are using — just like them– breathing the same air, experiencing the same moments together, while you’re in that big room together.
2. What is a recent song you’ve been struggling with? Have you won yet?
Yeah! It’s my opening number, I don’t have it right yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a song that Cy Coleman wrote called “Hey There, Good Times.” …It’s a very difficult song to sing and it’s got a lot of words and it moves very fast. But the lyrics of this song, which are by Michael Stewart, are so right for our times right now! … Those are just the right words for the right time… It’s the right song, but it’s gonna take me a while to master it, but this whole show’s gonna take me a year to master. You never really master it, you just keep working toward the next performance. Each performance is a student of the last performance; so you just keep improving, otherwise you go stale.
3. The relationship between a singer and the musical director really is a “cabaret marriage.” What are the keys to making the marriage work?
Michael Viagi has been with me for 33 years. We have a real symbiotic relationship. (There’s) give and take and I respect him and he respects me and then he breathes with me! We’re like the Corsican Brothers, he just breathes with me. He also plays the piano for the show — he did the arrangements. I don’t know, it’s like we’re one. We are one out there. I value him. He’s immensely valuable to us and to the show.
4. What is a particular image that you can rely on to be an effective sense memory when you’re performing?
Oh my god, I go through thousands of those. Every song is underpinned with a piece of my existence. Every phrase! There’s something, there’s a personal attachment. That’s why I chose those songs. It shifts slightly, but it starts getting lined up. That’s what I have to bring to a song besides singing the notes properly and singing the rhythms properly and getting the right words and the right intonation and all that technical stuff. It’s the underpinning of the song is what makes it live.
5. At what point do you add the choreography?
Some of the things are just pure choreography, just pure dancing. That’s from the beginning. (But) the staging I really leave ‘til last because the main thing is to get the emotional arc of it down right and to move to how this song moves to that song moves to that song. And then there’s no relationship between that song and that song which gives it an energy like “What’s that? That’s a change.” You know, you have to keep pulling all the stops out and figuring that out. And then I leave some places where I don’t know what I’m going to say so it lives, it’s not a pat piece. It varies.
+1 As someone who has notably worked with and befriended a number of strong-willed female performers, any tips on the care and handling of divas?
Oh, yes — LOVE them! All they want to do is be LOVED! It’s that simple, Michael, because all of it – ALL-is an expression of love. That’s all it is. That’s a big one, but that’s the truth of it!
*Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Blackglama mink people: