Tommy Tune Tonight!” can be summed up as Tried and True, but Terrific. There’s nothing terribly innovative about this 90-minute program of song, dance and chatter, but Tune’s talent and apparently effortless charm make for a delightful evening.
His visit to the Orange County Performing Arts Center marks the resumption of Tune’s tour following an imposed hiatus. His minor mishap — he broke his foot falling down the stairs of a Los Angeles hotel during a minor earthquake May 27 — gives him material for a few jokes, and obviously does not hamper his dancing in the slightest.
In fact, his layoff gave the eternally youthful 54-year-old entertainer (who gives his height as 5 feet 18 1/2 inches) material for a brief but delightful interlude. Tune plays a tape of a duet he recorded with Barbara Cook during his recovery period, then invites three female audience members to slow-dance with him on stage to the music. Their exhilaration was contagious; the bit should stay in the show.
The evening is an engaging mix of thrilling tap-dancing (Robert Fowler and Frantz Hall are Tune’s superb partners), sensitive interpretations of classic American songs (Tune knows how to get the most out of a Gershwin ballad) and largely improvised humor.
Audience involvement is a major element; at one point, Tune answered questions shouted from the crowd, easily turning each reply into a witty little story. At another point, he encouraged everyone to sing along with “Once in Love With Amy.”
Tune reminisces about his early days in New York and his visits to the legendary Variety Arts Center (pausing to do a perfect imitation of a Bob Fosse dance step). The show turns more serious as he movingly speaks of the building’s destruction and Broadway’s gradual demise.
A rundown of colleagues who have died, capped by a haunting rendition of “My Buddy,” gives the material still more gravity.
In the evening’s only serious misstep, Tune abruptly breaks the spell and moves back into lighter material for the final few numbers. One understands why he would want to end the evening on an up note, but something bittersweet might have been more appropriate given the arc of the program.
The simple set consists of little more than the band in the background; the costumes are tuxedos (white for Tune, black for his two colleagues). Lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer bathe the stage — and often the musicians — in an ever-changing variety of rich colors.
The audio system produced overly loud, unnatural sounds; one was thankful when Tune, for several numbers, put down his microphone and sang directly to the audience.
Show slated for Sept. 7-12 at the Wilshire Theater.