Tommy Tune is tap-dancing on a platform only slightly larger than his feet.
With his six-foot-six-inch frame sheathed in a valentine- red three-piece suit and white button-down shirt, and teeth dazzling through a broad smile, he resembles a candy cane on uppers.
Last Sunday, and again this weekend at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, the director and choreographer of such musicals as “Nine” and “Grand Hotel” is celebrating 50 years in show business. The songs range from Cole Porter’s “Don’t Monkey With Broadway” to Carole King’s “Up On the Roof,” which is in fact where Tune -- astonishingly youthful as he nears his 74th birthday -- lives today. We spoke at the East Side penthouse he shares with a Yorkie named Lil’ Shubert.
Gerard: How did your show, “Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales,” come about?
Tune: I realized this is my fiftieth year in show business and I thought, well that’s a landmark, you should do something, cuz nobody else is knockin’ on your door.
Gerard: But you’ve been busy, developing your musical about Studio 54 and working on television.
Tune: I’m doing a recurring role on a sitcom called “Arrested Development,” playing Liza Minnelli’s brother. We were on a night shoot on a barge about the size of this carpet. There were 16 of us and we rehearsed it in Long Beach, California. Then they pushed us out into the bay, it was raining, and I told the Coast Guard, “Listen, this is important. I can’t swim.”
Gerard: At Feinstein’s, you’re tapping on the tiniest stage I’ve ever seen.
Tune: This is really my New York nightclub debut. It reminds me of when I was a little boy in Houston. My folks entertained a lot and my father would roll back the rug and say, “C’mon, Bo, give ’em all arms and legs.” He’d want me to dance for everybody, which I hated. So I thought, “Well. Tommy, you’ve done this before. In the living room.”
Gerard: You tell the very poignant story of your show- stopping duet with the black tap dance legend Charles “Honi” Coles in “My One and Only.” During a performance when you were touring the show, Coles suffered a stroke. And though he couldn’t sing, his feet carried him through the number perfectly. Even now I see you choking up at the memory, as you did during the show.
Tune: I was nervous to tell that story about Honi, but that’s the heart of the show. It was the last time he ever appeared on stage. And working with him, that was a change in my life.
Gerard: In recent years, you’ve turned some of your creative energy to painting, mostly at your home in South Beach, Florida. I see one work here on the wall.
Tune: I had a storage space downtown that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and lost a lot of stuff. I don’t do cell phones and I don’t use a computer, I’m very off the grid. But I always have a sketchbook with me and I draw a lot.
Gerard: Your musical about the glory days of Studio 54 had a promising tryout in Florida. What’s happening with it?
Tune: I was working with 26 kids, and I just loved them. It was done on a 43-foot catwalk, with the audience on either side. We’re looking for the right space to do it in. It can’t work on a proscenium stage.
Gerard: We’re not seeing much of you on Broadway.
Tune: It’s good for me at this age to be doing stuff I haven’t done. Cary Grant told me two things. He said after 40, it’s important to take up a new activity every year. He also said a gentleman over 40 never shows his elbows.
Tommy Tune will perform “Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales” on Nov. 25 and 26 at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency. Information: +1- 212-339-4095; http://www.feinsteinsatloewsregency.com.
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include movies and London weekend.
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