Tommy Tune :: Broadway Legend Returns to Feinstein's

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Saturday March 17, 2018
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Having worn many hats over the course of his 50-year career in the theater, actor, dancer, director and choreographer Tommy Tune has done it all. He's won ten Tony Awards, among many other honors. On Sunday, March 18, Tune returns to San Francisco for two shows at Feinstein's at the Nikko.

"I'm so exciting to be returning," Tune said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, speaking from his home in New York. "The first time I played San Francisco was at the Venetian Room, and we were a smash. It was flattering to be appreciated."

For his show at Feinstein's, Tune will be sharing songs and stories from his illustrious career, a career that seemed unlikely when he was growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"When you grow up in Texas they don't want you to leave," he recalled. "Because they have everything--everything but Broadway. I never saw a play until I was 16."

It was the movies that got the young Tune interested in musical theater.

"I wanted to see movies where people behaved like that," he said of movie musicals. "I loved Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Cyd Charisse. I always found the musical numbers more interesting than the prime story."

Years later, as Tune's star on Broadway was rising, he took direction from Gene Kelly in the film version of the musical "Hello Dolly."

"It was my first movie and it couldn't have been better," he said. "Gene said to me, Tommy, dance better. I knew what he meant and I did. So I always try to dance the best I can because of Gene."

And now, with the 50th anniversary of the film coming up in 2019, Tune will be participating in a "Hello Doll"y reunion on the streets of Garrison, New York, where the film was shot.

"We're going to have a parade on the street where we shot "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and I'm going to be grand marshal," he said. "The facades from the movie are still there in front of people's homes."

Tune explained why he's made so few films.

"I want to perform for people, not for machines," he said. "I don't even have a cell phone. I had one for about two weeks five years ago. It was disruptive. So if someone wants to meet me they can't call and say they're going to be late. They have to be there."

He remembers the thrill of winning his first Tony Award for his work in the musical Baker Street in 1965.

"It's like when you have the feeling of falling in love for the first time, it's an out-of-body experience," he said. "I look upon these awards as a parental pat on the head. They encourage an artist."

Tune's Broadway credits as a performer include "How Now Dow Jones," "Seesaw," and "My One and Only." He made his debut as a director in 1978 with "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and continued directing with shows such as "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine," "Nine," "Grand Hotel," and "The Will Rogers Follies." In some of these productions he also served as choreographer.

In his early days Tune was mentored by another musical theater legend, Carol Channing. The two remain close friends today.

"I've known Carol since I was 17," he said. "She came to my high school graduation."

He plans to see Channing while he's in California. "I talk to her every day, but it's not the same as seeing her," he said.

Channing has long been an icon to gay theater buffs, and she's always embraced her gay audience. Tune has been open about his own sexuality from the beginning.

"That was the gift of the theater," he said. "We were free and welcome in the theater in New York."

He spoke of how alone he had felt back in Texas.

"I thought I was the only one," he said. "There was no one to relate to, there were no gay characters. I thought there was something wrong with me. There was no one to talk to until I went to New York."

He also spoke of the two relationships he had.

"Both of my partners died," he said. "But at least I experienced it. Gay marriage is so beautiful. It didn't exist back then."

These are some of the stories Tune will be sharing when he appears at Feinstein's. He calls his show a "musical autobiography in song and dance of my career and some of my offstage life.

"The hardest thing in my show is what I leave out," he said. "I'm grateful to the theater and that I could make a living at it."

Tommy Tune at Feinstein's at the Nikko. 222 Mason St. Sunday, March 18, 4pm and 7pm. $60-100.